This Iron Fist Season 2 review contains NO spoilers. It is based on the first six episodes of the season.
Before I can talk about Marvel’s Iron Fist Season 2, I feel like I need to take a moment to reflect on season one. That show, which was dragged around the internet pretty hard by critics and fans, was not only impossibly slow and remarkably action free for a series about a martial artist, but it lacked the cinematic flair that Marvel Netflix shows were already known for. I gave the show a soft landing based on the first six episodes that were provided to critics for review at the time, with my logic being that the show’s baffling pacing was likely just a matter of Netflix frontloading the filler episodes for whatever reason, and that surely the full season couldn’t be as bad as those. Little did I know how wrong I was.
Which is why I’m so pleased to report that Iron Fist Season 2 is a massive improvement in virtually every way that matters. A new showrunner (Sleepy Hollow‘s Raven Metzner), a new fight coordinator, and Danny Rand’s evolution over the course of The Defenders and a fun episode of Luke Cage’s second season, all help tremendously, along with better villains, a more focused story, and a willingness to put the show’s supporting cast to better use.
The first episode alone (I screened six to write this review) is almost like a brand new pilot, starting things off with a fun street fight sequence which is already better than any comparable action scene in season one. And in case things aren’t clear, it follows up with an even better one to bookend the hour. And don’t worry, there are even more in the following episodes (including a terrific, intense tournament fight in the Rachel Talalay directed third episode). Finn Jones is far more comfortable and convincing in these scenes this time around and Jessica Henwick shines when Colleen Wing gets in on the fun…which is often. When the Iron Fist itself is deployed, it feels like a video game special attack, which underscores that this season clearly gets how much fun can be had by revelling in the craziness of a mystically powered urban brawler.
Jones is not only more comfortable in the action scenes, he seems more at home as Danny. Danny Rand is still a weirdo, but he leans more on earnestness than the grating self-righteousness the character has been known for in the past. He’s played as a guy genuinely trying to find his place in modern society, even forsaking his cushy position at Rand Enterprises in favor of a job as a mover. Of course, Danny is still a haunted character, and one who can never be fully at home in NYC, just as he was never truly at home in K’un-Lun. But without his mission to destroy the Hand, or an overwhelming desire to tell anyone who will listen that he’s “the immortal Iron Fist” there’s more to like. Inspired by Matt Murdock’s apparent sacrifice at the conclusion of The Defenders, Danny has made it his mission to protect NYC’s Lower East Side, as a gang war to fill the void left by The Hand threatens to catch fire.
Stripped of much of the philosophy and mysticism that season one so brutally mishandled, Iron Fist Season 2 focuses on the mundanity of superheroics in a way we’ve never really seen explored in the MCU. Danny has a couple of computer monitors and a police scanner set up in the living room (he now lives with Colleen Wing in the converted Chikara dojo). His “costume” is nothing more than a hoodie and a Sub-Zero/Scorpion mask. We see him scrubbing blood out of clothing in the bathroom sink after a rough night. In a way, it’s almost what I would want to see more out of with live action interpretations of Spider-Man. Consider how low key Daredevil was in his first season. In terms of being on top of your superhero shit, Danny isn’t even there yet. On the one hand, it’s refreshing. On the other, I’m still longing for the Mortal Kombat-esque superpowered martial arts adventure that Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja delivered in the comics with their run on The Immortal Iron Fist, but I suppose Danny has to earn that…and as a result, so do we.
But the real key might just be that Iron Fist Season 2 isn’t just about Danny Rand anymore. Jessica Henwick is a true co-star this time around, getting as much screen time and ass-kicking action as the title character. Colleen Wing was an immediate fan favorite from the moment footage of her season one cage fight scene was screened at New York Comic Con in 2016. Fans who enjoyed her “take no shit” attitude will be thrilled by how Colleen is foregrounded this season, and her relationship with Danny makes her the perfect character to express the same exasperation that the audience may sometimes feel with him.
If you were intrigued by the brief Colleen Wing/Misty Knight team-up we saw in Luke Cage Season 2, you’ll really be thrilled with what’s in store here. Simone Missick is here as Misty Knight in no fewer than four of the six episodes screened for this review, and the deepening friendship and trust between that pair, not to mention the onscreen chemistry they display together (oh, and they also kick multiple asses) bodes very well for their future. But beyond that, there is virtually no mention of the larger Marvel Universe, which is a strength in itself. Without the necessity of getting everyone on the same page for an ambitious crossover show, or the need to remind the audience at every turn that this is the MCU, the story is much tighter. It’s nice to know Luke Cage could pop in for a guest appearance (he doesn’t in the episodes screened), but it’s more important that Iron Fist and friends define their part of town on their own terms for a while. At the same time, it’s easy to imagine how, rather than a second season of The Defenders (which doesn’t appear to be a priority for the studio or the network at the moment), Iron Fist and Luke Cage and their respective supporting casts could just merge into an ongoing Heroes for Hire series, much like Danny and Luke ended up sharing a comic book series for years. We’ve already seen how well Mike Colter and Finn Jones complement each other on screen, and the Daughters of the Dragon vibes are strong with Colleen and Misty, so let’s just make it happen.
In perhaps the biggest indicator of how well this season has turned things around, even the Meachum siblings and an ongoing subplot about their relationship with Rand Enterprises works. This is no slight against their season one performances, but the endless Rand boardroom scenes, which often felt like they would have been more at home on some non-Marvel ABC show were a real drag. Here, both Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy (Jessica Stroup) are given plenty to do. Pelphrey in particular is often a dose of much needed dark humor, while Stroup sands the cartoony edges off of Joy’s comic book arc, even as she goes into business with some of the less savory elements of the Marvel Universe.
It also helps that we have far more compelling villains this time around. That first season took an immediate turn for the better when it introduced Davos (Sacha Dhawan), and his return here as a regular presence is a welcome one. Dhawan brings a believable intensity to the role, and unlike Danny in season one, Davos isn’t adjusting to the modern world all that well. Like the best of Marvel’s Netflix villains, you can see where this guy is coming from. And while I don’t yet think there’s any danger of Davos dethroning Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk or David Tennant’s Kilgrave or Mahershala Ali’s Cornell Stokes, this a great, sympathetic baddie, and there’s still room for the character to really have a moment.
Davos is joined by Alice Eve as the mysterious Mary, a character that will certainly ring some bells for Marvel Comics fans. Eve brings an eerie, Manson Family detachment to Mary’s more disturbing moments, and I can only hope this character survives the season and sticks around to give heroes on some of Marvel’s other shows even more anxiety than usual. Eve capably handles some terrific action sequences, and with any luck, we’ll see more of this character, both throughout the season and elsewhere in the Marvel Netflix universe.
Of course, this being a Marvel Netflix show, you know what’s coming, right? Even after six episodes it doesn’t feel like there’s enough story to maintain 10. There are moments of dialogue that are profoundly irritating and unnatural. There’s a dinner party that takes up the majority of the third episode that is not as compelling, tense, or revealing as it seems to think it is, and it slows the already unhurried pace of the show to an unacceptable degree. At this point, after ten seasons, I just have to assume that this is somehow being done on purpose. In this respect, it’s almost not fair to ding Iron Fist for it, when it’s just a brand-wide problem.
None of these shows has had a bad second season yet, and while this didn’t knock me out the way the sophomore Luke Cage effort did, Iron Fist Season 2 certainly feels more like the show I thought we were getting the first time around. Better writing, better fight choreography, and an increased focus on the wider cast all make a difference, and help smooth over many of the usual Marvel Netflix problems. Considering how little goodwill the first season generated, some fans may not have patience for the usual quirks this time around. But as for me, I’m looking forward to seeing where the next four episodes take us, and I think that’s the surest sign that the first six did their job.