Wednesday, September 5, 2018

TV REVIEW: Netflix's 'Iron Fist' - Season 2

Netflix's Iron Fist returns for its 10-episode second season on Friday, September 7. The new season stars Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Tom Pelphrey, Jessica Stroup, Sacha Dhawan, Simone Missick and Alice Eve.

Read on for my thoughts on the new season after screening its first six episodes.

During its first season, Netflix's Iron Fist was the first Marvel drama to be critically panned. It hasn't been the only one since then though. Inhumans was even more widely ridiculed. Even the praised dramas from Marvel started getting more criticisms for their pacing problems. But the big question heading into Season 2 of Iron Fist has to be: is the quality any better the second time around? The short answer is yes. It's not substantial better. But the change of showrunner and the addition of a better fight choreographer allows the storytelling to be done in a more engaging and watchable way. The show now has some identity and some awareness of how smug and entitled its main character can be. Now, I didn't watch a single second of the first season because of those initial reviews from other critics. Since then though, I've had to see Finn Jones in the role of Danny Rand because of The Defenders and the second season of Luke Cage. The miniseries that brought all of the Netflix-Marvel heroes together confirmed to me that everyone was right with their initial criticisms about the character. And yet, the spark between Danny and Luke Cage was strong in his one off appearance on Luke Cage. As such, there was the hope that things would be significantly better under a showrunner with some actual vision. So now, there is some sense of momentum with the story actually telling things in a way that is moving and entertaining. However, I'd still rather be watching shows centering around Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage or Frank Castle. After six episodes of this season, I'm basically ready for the spinoff that just centers on Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. Those two characters continue to be so strong despite not being the chief focus here.

Danny's identity continues to be a huge theme of the new season as well. He has always come across as a privileged white guy who has no idea just how much his money affords him in life. He always wanted to suggest that he accomplished things without rely on the billions of dollars to his name. Of course, not a whole lot of evidence was visible to back up that claim. And now, the show takes its characters out of the boardrooms of privileged New York and into the downtown streets of Chinatown. That's where the majority of the story takes place. Sure, the Meachum siblings are still involved with the show. But they seem better integrated into the story as well even though they can still frequently be annoying and lame. Once again though, the exploration of Danny's identity is the core idea of this season. Does Danny actually believe in anything himself? Or does he simply appropriate causes from the people around him? He only revered the power of the Iron Fist because he was rescued by the elders of K'un-L'un following the plane crash that killed his parents. They gave him that direction. And now, he serves as the protector of New York City largely because it was the dying wish of Matt Murdock during the climax of The Defenders It's the burden that Danny must now carry. Sure, he's only really protecting one corner of the city. And yet, one could argue that Matt was doing the same exact thing. For Danny, it's Chinatown. For Luke Cage, it's Harlem. And for Matt, it's Hell's Kitchen. They are all different. But Danny is the one who is latching on to the identity of what it means to be a hero based on his previous encounters with super-powered individuals.

But does this make a compelling character arc for Danny Rand to explore? He believes he has a mission now. That too is a huge component of this new season. What is the purpose of the Iron Fist now that K'un-L'un has been destroyed and the threat from The Hand has been vanquished? Those were the marching orders when Danny first received these powers. And now, the identity of Iron Fist is also up for grabs. Danny's brother during his time in K'un-L'un, Davos, is once again making his presence known to remind Danny that he failed in his duty to protect the mystical place. Sure, it's the show once again drudging up the past. It's much more effective when it is focusing on the future and this new threat that is facing the city. But Davos is such a huge feature of the story and he is wrecked with desperation. He seeks revenge against Danny for robbing him of his opportunity to fulfill his destiny. He believes Danny is an unworthy hero who doesn't deserve these powers. As such, the plotting by him composes a lot of the main story of the new season. It does have some pretty profound complications for Danny after awhile too. Though those are mostly playing out in the last few screeners that were sent out to critics for review. Even then, it's starting to feel like the show is padding the story out in the hopes to fill enough time to meet a certain quota. That's disappointing even in a season that is producing fewer episodes than what Netflix and Marvel have typically dictated.

And so, this season is only releasing ten episodes. At first, that seems like a refreshing change of pace because these Netflix-Marvel dramas have been so criticized for simply being too long. It really hurts the main stories after awhile as well. All of them would have improved if they just cut some episodes or some stories altogether. It always felt like a business deal that had absolutely nothing to do with the creative. And yet, audiences were suffering because of it. Of course, this decision also could have been made because Iron Fist was such a critically panned show to start with. Ten episodes is a less risky investment than thirteen after all. It's cheaper for the production. Simone Missick's inclusion in the new season certainly feels like a stunt to bring in a nice joint of energy. Sure, Misty Knight is a terrific character who really brings things into focus as well - especially for Colleen's story for the season. And yet, the show also has to keep Misty in a holding pattern of sorts. She was offered a big promotion at the end of Luke Cage Season 2. The ramifications of that are mostly set to play out in the third season of that show. And so, that means she isn't really allowed to have any big developments in her life. She just has to interact with the other main characters and give them advice. Of course, that's very good for Colleen because she's a little stuck in her life unsure of what she wants. She has hung up her katana for good. She doesn't want to go out on the streets as a crime fighter. But she keeps getting pulled into the fight because of Danny. Their relationship is solid throughout the season. The chemistry isn't always there between them. Danny is still messing up constantly. But the stability has to be noted as well especially considering the number of failed romances elsewhere on these shows.

At the end of the day though, the show ultimately succeeds or fails based on Finn Jones' performance. Again, he has gotten much more comfortable with the role the longer he plays it. Everyone around him is just much more natural though. Well, not everyone. Ward is still an arduous strain who exists for no real reason whatsoever. He's mostly stuck in a story struggling with sobriety and trying to make amends with the people in his life. That does tie into what Danny is going through in the new season as well. But again, it's just much more fun to see Misty and Colleen interacting or Davos being stoic and badass or newcomer Alice Eve as a woman with a unique personality. The truth about who Eve is playing is already out there for anyone who wishes to look. And yet, the season is also designed to leave the audience guessing as to what is really going on with her as she seems to be working both for and against every other character on the show. That could be alienating because it takes too many episodes before confirming what is an inherent part of her identity. But after that moment, she becomes very integrated into the overall ensemble and continues to create a bunch of problems. It's a solid acting showcase for Eve. She too provides a nice jolt of energy. As such, there are plenty of things to enjoy about the second season of Iron Fist. Finn Jones just remains a significant problem even though he is much more believable as a trained and accomplished fighter this time around.