Well well well, here we are again. Season 1 of Iron Fist was probably the single weakest offering from the Marvel/Netflix franchise yet, and I know that because I watched the whole thing alongside my co-recapper Chancellor Agard (check here if you need a quick refresher). We’re not doing that this time; instead, we’ll only be writing about the season premiere and the season finale.
So, based on the season 2 premiere, has Iron Fist improved at all?
The short answer: Kind of? We open with a fight scene that embodies both the promise of the new season and the deeply embedded problems it might not be able to avoid. For one thing, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) wears a mask now when he goes out to fight crime. This presumably makes it easier to use body doubles, which is a relief since last season really suffered from Jones’ subpar martial arts skills on what was supposed to be a martial arts-focused superhero show. As a result, the action is both more entertaining and easier to follow, right from the get-go.
But this opening sequence, which finds Danny trying to thwart the robbery of an armored car, also shows some of the problems in the entire Iron Fist concept. When we first meet these robbers, they act a lot like the Joker’s clown-masked goons from the beginning of The Dark Knight — as in, shooting everyone on sight. They shoot the truck driver and the guards hiding in the back, but when Danny shows up they suddenly can’t aim anymore. He manages to take out the first two one at a time by sneaking around the truck, but soon finds himself surrounded by a miniature army. His solution is to use the iron fist to punch the ground and knock them all back with a shockwave, but it’s barely plausible. One guy near the bottom left corner of the screen still manages to have his shotgun pointed ahead as he falls, but doesn’t fire it for some reason. Times like this, you remember that the character was created in the ‘70s, back when criminals might conceivably walk around New York City with only knives in their hands. Decades-old superheroes like Batman have managed to stay up to date by constantly upgrading their arsenal, but one glowing fist really doesn’t pack the same punch it used to when everyone else has automatic weapons.
After the fight, Danny comes home to his girlfriend/crime-fighting partner Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), and you remember another key failure of Iron Fist: The lack of believable romantic chemistry between the two leads. Colleen is a great character, and Henwick’s performance is the most engaging in the entire show. Luckily, she begins her own quest this episode in the form of tracking down an old family heirloom. It’s just a shame she still doesn’t get much help from Jones.
Most of season 1’s supporting cast is back, albeit now with different trajectories. Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey) is trying to move on from the manipulations of his father Harold and their involvement with the Hand. So far, he’s doing that by going to AA meetings, but he’s not really interested in sharing the story of his struggle with addiction; he much prefers having sex with the group leader in a broom closet. Hey, at least he’s happy! Once again, I find myself constantly forgetting that Ward isn’t played by Billy Crudup, and I mean that as a compliment! He should be a totally insufferable character, but Pelphrey makes his pain relatable. After all, he does have a point when he talks about Danny walking around with total privilege and getting weirded out that everyone else isn’t as happy as him.
If you missed Ward constantly complaining about Danny’s business incompetence, you’re in luck. When his sister Joy (Jessica Stroup) reappears after a months-long absence and demands to be bought out of her Rand contract, Ward rips into Danny for agreeing to sign it. Once again, though, he’s totally ineffectual. Danny takes Joy’s claims of wanting to “move on” and “build something of her own” at face value and wants to help. Little does he know that Joy’s newest operation involves partnering with his old friend Davos (Sacha Dawan) for reasons unknown.
Before Danny comes face-to-face with Davos himself, he stops for a date night with Colleen. During dinner, they discuss how the Hand’s absence has led to a power vacuum that might set the stage for a gang war (real fans of my Marvel-Netflix recaps with Chancellor might remember a similar dynamic in season 2 of Luke Cage, when Bushmaster’s arrival upset the balance of criminal power). That gang war comes close to breaking out right in the middle of their dinner, in fact, leading to the premiere’s best fight sequence. Colleen fights one gang faction in the kitchen while Danny fights another in the dining area, to ensure they don’t meet and kill each other. Colleen’s fight is really fun, with kitchen utensils mixing with traditional melee weapons in a way that brings to mind the battles from The Raid (which is the highest compliment I can give to martial arts entertainment in 2018). And Danny fights without that face mask this time, so who knows? Maybe Jones has learned a trick or two.
The episode ends with Davos confronting Danny over their shared history. He believes that the iron fist is his birthright and that he should wield it, not Danny. This is yet another example of the show suffering from never showing us much from their K’un-Lun days. That’s understandable for budgetary reasons but really takes the juice out of Danny’s rivalry with Davos. Iron Fist just has to tell us how they feel about each other and why we should care, rather than showing us.
So far, season 2 of Iron Fist offers a slight improvement over season 1, but it’s not yet anything to write home about. Check back at the end of the weekend for Chancellor’s thoughts on the finale and the season as a whole.