Iron Fist: How Marvel redeemed Danny Rand
Ivan Radford | On 08, Sep 2018
This weekend sees the return of The Immortal Iron Fist to Netflix, and it’s safe to say that fans are less than enthused about the prospect of the show’s second season. That’s partly because Iron Fist is a character who has less going on than Luke Cage, Jessica Jones or Daredevil – the other Hell’s Kitchen heroes – but it’s also because Iron Fist as a show just wasn’t very good.
Season 1 was a dull, uneven piece of TV that struggled to find a voice, a drive or even a likeable lead character. That character was Danny Rand, a billionaire who returned to New York City after being missing for years to try reconnecting with his past and his family legacy. Oh, and fight against the criminal movement known as The Hand, using the awesome power of the fiery Iron Fist, which he summons through his mystical kung-fu powers. One of the biggest criticisms of the show was the fact that it portrayed a familiar comic book narrative with a white man at its centre, failing to update source material that stemmed from the dated 1970s – when Marvel was keen to cash in on the martial arts craze of the time, regardless of stereotypes.
Just as problematic as the flawed source material and its white saviour trope was the programme itself, which suffered from “simplistic writing” and “tedious characterisation”, as our reviews of Season 1 put it. It was telling that when Lewis Tan showed up as villainous fighter Zhou Cheng in Episode 8, he swiftly overshadowed Danny to become a fan favourite.
With Iron Fist nonetheless renewed for a sophomore outing, though, Marvel has faced a challenging mission over the last year: redeem Danny Rand. Impressively, the Marvel Netflix universe has taken dramatic steps to do just that, or at least get the ball rolling – a process that began with The Defenders’ crossover season last year, and continued with the second season of Luke Cage. Here’s how they’ve done it:
He became the centre of attention
Rather than skirt around The Danny Problem in The Defenders, showrunners Marco Ramirez and Douglas Petrie took the smart decision to make Iron Fist the crux of the entire plot. He was the MacGuffin, the damsel in distress, the one everyone was looking for: The Hand, because they needed his power to open up a secret underground vault under the city, and The Defenders, because they needed to keep Dany away from The Hand, and use his fighting skills to do it.
The result gave Finn Jones – who has not been to blame for any of Iron Fist’s failings – more screen time to win fans over, but also a chance to sell a redemption arc that paved the way for a more compelling character future. Along with some fighting time and a fair portion of dialogue, that spotlight on Danny also meant that his flaws couldn’t be hidden out of sight.
He got a sense of humour
There are only so many times that you can hear the words “The Immortal Iron Fist” without rolling your eyes, and The Defenders clocked that immediately, with Krysten Ritter’s Jessica never missing an opportunity to send up Danny for his arrogance or entitlement. A season of that, and some time between the end of The Defenders and Luke Cage, meant that when he popped up in Season 2 alongside Mike Colter’s bulletproof hero, he had acquired self-awareness and a sense of humour. He used his own power as a joke, while accepting Luke Cage’s affectionate mocking, as Powerman stopped him from once again launching into an anecdote about his life story. He acknowledged the ridiculousness of his history and the mystical powers he goes on about – and, yes, the absurdity of going on about how he once fought a dragon.
He learned not to be self-centred
Marvel’s best decision of all was to pair Danny Rand with Luke Cage, both in The Defenders and in Luke’s own series. It’s a chalk-and-cheese combination that pushed Danny in new directions, forcing him to acknowledge his own privilege and consider other people’s problems, positions and perspectives – and also value team work. Jessica Jones began that shift away from thinking about himself, with Colleen Wing helping. By the end, he became the sidekick to the more mature heroes, excitedly running about like Peter Parker rather than assuming himself to be the star of the show – it helped, of course, that he was literally tied up and kept off-screen by the other characters for a big chunk of that final act.
He calmed down
When Danny discovered The Hand’s goal in The Defenders, he grew annoyed that the others had lied to him. But if the cynical, weary detective Jessica was the one to deflate his ego, Cage was the one to calm his anger, and their pairing in The Defenders was key to cooling his temper and getting him to listen not only to his chi, but to other people. By the time he returned in Luke Cage Season 2, Danny’s cameo showed him in a new, more settled light; he, if anything, was the one to advise Luke to calm down, helping Cage to rediscover his own inner peace as everything in his life was whipped from under his feet.
He became generous
Not unlike Bruce Wayne’s quip in Justice League, Danny also eventually understood his wealth to be its own type of superpower, and we’ve seen him gradually use that weapon more and more for the better of others. That starts with paying for the restaurant damage after a brawl in The Defenders, but continued with Misty Knight’s new bionic arm. The financial and social gap between Danny, Luke and the others isn’t closed, but it’s bridged effectively.
He found a purpose
All of this moving away from thinking solely of himself has been driven, in part, by the task given to him by Daredevil. At the end of The Defenders, Matt Murdock charged Danny with protecting New York city, a responsibility that has forced Rand to balance his own concerns with the wider metropolis. “He’s a lot more grounded in his world. He’s now moved in with Colleen, he has a job, he has a house, he has a girlfriend; he’s settled,” said Jones of Iron Fist’s evolution since Season 1 in a recent interview.
He got a new showrunner
All of this wouldn’t be possible without some creative rethinking, and Marvel made it clear that they were looking to improve the state of Iron Fist’s affairs after Season 1, with the appointment of a new showrunner for the programme: Raven Metzner.
“I think duality and seeking balance [will be the two major themes],” Metzner has said of Season 2. “People go through their life saying they’re okay, but we’re all looking for a place where we’re on steady ground. We all know that’s a really difficult thing and you usually never get there. The only way you can move through all of the landmines is by keeping yourself balanced. All of the characters are searching for which side they’re going to land on, so that duality and balance will carry with us.”
“I think you’re going to see all these characters in new and interesting ways and be pushed to places in ways we haven’t pushed them yet before, both emotionally and also in interesting and cool action sequences,” he added at AsiaPop Comic-Con.
The focus will also be more on Colleen Wing too, Jones noted at the event.
“Colleen has a phenomenal story this year,” he commented. “It sort of left her in the position that had her questioning everything about herself. What does it mean to be a warrior? What does it mean to hold a sword? How can she be good, how should she be good? So I think we’ll find her in a really interesting place this year.”
His fighting got better
With Finn Jones getting back into train early before Season 2 started filming, the trailers for Iron Fist’s Season 2 suggest that the choreography has been improved, with the intensity stepping up a gear – after all, there’s no excuse for a Netflix martial arts series to have underwhelming martial arts, especially when there’s Into the Badlands on offer over on Amazon Prime Video.
All of which bodes well for Iron Fist’s return, especially with the introduction of a new villain, in the form of Alice Eve’s Typhoid Mary. But an improving main character is only the first big step required – will Danny Rand’s redemption translate into a redeemed show overall? Stay tuned for our verdict on Season 2, available to stream now. In the meantime, you can watch the trailer here.
Iron Fist Season 2 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.