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Sunday, September 9, 2018

How The Fist Has Turned



Iron Fist season 2 is one of the great Marvel comeback stories. It's the Marvel TV equivalent of how Thor: Ragnarok successfully reinvigorated the Thor franchise. There's really no need to rehash the problems with Iron Fist season 1, but the season 2 turnaround is simply remarkable for all the ways new showrunner M. Raven Metzner wildly improved the show he inherited. Season 2 accentuated the positives, eliminated all of the negatives and baggage (this is the really amazing part), and changed the paradigm of Iron Fist, which will in turn reverberate across the Netflix Marvel Universe. 

Most importantly, Iron Fist 2 was a great deal of fun that took a hard look at its characters, worked out how they think and feel, and then set them all on better paths (except maybe Joy. Poor Joy is in a bad spot, but that's what you get for being the bad guy). Here are the big hits Iron Fist 2 struck - the five fingers of the Fist, if you will - that really turned the entire franchise around:

The Ballad of Danny Rand. Season 2 considered the man at the heart of the series, Danny Rand himself, asked the hard questions about him and came to the proper conclusions: he's just not good enough. Yet. He could be, but he's not there. Kudos to Finn Jones (who was always better than the material he'd been previously given) for how he took on the challenge of actually taking a back seat as the lead of his own series. Danny loses the Iron Fist in episode 4 and incredibly, he doesn't get it back until the final moments of the season, in a denouement set 'months later.' 

Danny was a problem child who, at long last, chose to address his biggest problem - himself. He asked for help from the right people, he admitted his limitations, and he chose the harder path - to grow and better himself. It's not often in a superhero series that the hero realizes he's not the person he ought to be and surrenders his powers to someone who could use them better than he does. This was a bold choice and it felt very right.

Colleen Wing is the Immortal Iron Fist. What a fantastic switcheroo - one that the show really had the balls to follow through on! The truth is Colleen was always the better character. She is smarter, more worldly, more mature, knows herself, and it never made sense that she was second fiddle (and 'the girlfriend') to Danny Rand. Not that she wasn't a great girlfriend and partner, but Colleen could be a lot more. Amazingly, Iron Fist 2 came to that same logical conclusion and empowered Colleen as the co-lead of the series. She's now the Iron Fist, and she deserves to be. Colleen absolutely deserves to stand alongside the other Defenders as a marquee superhero.

What was incredibly rewarding about season 2 was how well the seeds of Colleen's ascension were planted throughout. She was the calm and rational one, the peacemaker in a room full of Triad bosses and Danny Rand, the trustworthy one who did the right things for the right reasons. The absolute best thing about season 2 was how they finally utilized Jessica Henwick to her utmost; of course, she played Colleen as a badass, but Henwick also got to smile, laugh, crack jokes, and even host a dinner party (maybe the best moment in the series) where Colleen cut right to the heart of the tension at the table. Colleen is the real hero NYC needs; she's the most balanced, intelligent, and least damaged Defender. With Colleen wielding the Iron Fist, the future looks as bright as her glowing hand and her katana.

The Daughters of the Dragon stole the show. Bringing in Misty Knight paid off dividends. Simone Missick is simply fantastic and Misty has grown into the unsung hero of the Marvel Netflix shows. She's the true adult in the room who brings credibility and heart to every moment she's in. The Daughters of the Dragon mini-show within Iron Fist 2 was one of the best things ever in a Marvel Netflix show; not only is it great to see two female heroes take on missions together, but they brought out the best in each other. Colleen and Misty are every bit as funny, cool, and effective together as you'd hoped. And, as they each pointed out, they don't even really know each other but they're each other's mutual best relationship. The Daughters of the Dragon delivered an amazing proof of concept for their own spinoff series and hopefully, they'll get it.

All the negatives eliminated. The season 2 writers room must have asked the right question - What was dragging Iron Fist down? - and then they made a list and systematically crossed the cons right out of the show. The Hand? Gone gone gone. No time was spent in Rand Enterprises dealing with boring corporate shenanigans. No resurrections of old villains like Madame Gao or Harold Meachum no one wanted to see again. And the bad fight scenes? Completely turned around. The action in season 2 was top-drawer, especially all the moments (like Colleen and Misty fighting the Crane Sisters in episode 6) where you could see the actors were really performing the fights. Jones, Henwick, Missick, Sacha Dhawan as Davos all committed fully to the action and the results are right there on the screen. 

Down Ward, Up Ward. I dunno about you, but Ward Meachum is my favorite character in this whole series, just slightly outpacing Colleen. This poor guy suffers from his own demons and falls off the wagon constantly, but he's trying, man. No matter in what bad way Ward finds himself in, Tom Pelphrey plays him with a twinkle in his eye where you root for him and hope Ward somehow pulls it together. Just as entertaining as the Daughters of the Dragon are, Pelphrey and Finn Jones are magical in their many scenes together. They're brothers who both know they're just not quite good enough for the spots they found themselves in, but they take solace in each other with wry in-jokes and oddly touching personal revelations. For their part, Jessica Stroup had a bit more of a thankless task as a villain but never lost touch with the humanity in Joy Meachum, while Alice Eve created an intriguingly complex villain in Mary Walker, who is poised to reveal even more layers to herself.

Even at a shortened 10 episodes, the season still felt a bit too long for the story they were telling and maybe could have best been consolidated into 8 episodes, but despite that and a few other minor issues, Iron Fist 2 is a win, pure and simple. It's a remarkable feeling to walk away from Iron Fist dying to see more. 

Where's the place to be in Marvel NYC? Harlem? Hell's Kitchen? Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.