(Warning: This story contains spoilers for the second season of “Marvel’s Iron Fist”)
Netflix’s corner of Marvel’s cinematic universe had received widespread acclaim for its first three series in “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage.” But “Iron Fist” became the first Marvel property set inside the MCU to receive nearly universal derision.
But something funny happened when the show returned for its second season, which premiered last Friday: The widely-mocked series got good.
For season two, out was Scott Buck, who initially created the series for Netflix, and in was “Sleepy Hollow” veteran Raven Metzner. Metzner actually pitched a version of “Iron Fist” when Marvel and Netflix were first developing it, and was well aware of the criticisms that the first season faced.
“I was aware of a lot of the criticism, because I would read it,” he tells TheWrap. “I don’t think I was aware of just how much it really lived with people and still continues to live with people [on the show].”
“Iron Fist,” aka Danny Rand, portrayed by “Game of Thrones” star Finn Jones, was seen as the weak link of “The Defenders,” Netflix’s team-up series that united all the four characters to be the streamer’s version of Marvel’s big-screen “Avengers.” Things changed in Season 2, and Jones said in part that it’s because Metzner is a real deal “Iron Fist” fan.
“Raven is a fanboy first. More than anything he’s a fanboy,” star Finn Jones tells TheWrap. “And you know, he really loves the comics.”
Jones said that while the vibe on set stayed pretty much the same — “it’s always a really good energy on set” — there were some logistical changes behind the scenes that helped.
“The machine was just oiled a little bit better, I feel, which kind of helped the inner-workings of it,” he said. “So really, this season, behind the scenes, it just felt like there was space given in the schedule for everyone to be able to rehearse, be rested, and also get on and do the work.”
One of the biggest criticisms about “Iron Fist” was that Danny was really bad at his job. The first season ends with K’un L’un destroyed — because Danny abandoned it — and in “The Defenders,” Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones had to constantly save Danny from The Hand.
But Metzner knows that he couldn’t just scrap the continuity that came before him. “These stories continue and are part of a shared universe,” he said, noting that all he knew is that “Iron Fist” would come after “Luke Cage” Season 2 and before “Daredevil’s” upcoming third season. “It wasn’t like I was hired to hit a reset button and start from scratch,” he added.
So Metzner had to figure out a way to remake the show, without it being an actual remake.
Much of Season 2 deals with Danny questioning himself as to why he needs to be the Iron Fist, even spending a massive chunk of the season stripped of his powers. At the end of the season, he makes the decision that he doesn’t deserve the Iron Fist, venturing off to Asia, and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) takes over as the Iron Fist.
That decision, argues Metzner, showed off Danny’s maturity because he admits he wants the power, but understands he’s not worthy of it yet. Metzner said Danny’s questioning of why he wants the Iron Fist in the first place was his way of solving a lot of his personal issues with how Danny was portrayed in the earlier series.
“We started very much in the world that everyone knew,” he said. “By the end of the season we got to a place where the show was very different.”
The fight scenes, another of the biggest criticisms of the first season, were lauded this season by critics. That can be traced back to the decision by Marvel to bring in “Black Panther” and “Creed” veteran Clayton Barber as stunt coordinator for “Iron Fist.” And Barber says he immediately put the actors to work.
“We nurtured, trained them a little bit more. I just tried to demand a little bit more.” Barber tells TheWrap. “I don’t like [stunt doubles]. If the actor doesn’t do their own thing, then what good is it?” He said that compared to the first season, the actors did about “30 to 40 percent” more of their own stunts. “Finn did the majority of his own scenes.”
This was especially true for the frequent fight scenes between Danny and Davos (Sacha Dhawan). “Those guys did pretty much 90 percent of them,” says Barber. This included the fight in the second episode, which saw both actors tied together by a cloth in what was essentially a fight to the death. Barber said that scene was among the most taxing for the two. He remembers telling them: “I want to see you guys fatigued and lethargic at the end of the fight.”
Another reason the fight scenes went more smoothly was a simple matter of smarter scheduling, Jones said. He gave “props” to producer Tim Iacofano, who Jones said was “meticulous in making sure that things were scheduled out correctly.” Fight scenes were scheduled at the end of shooting blocks, giving the actors ample time to rehearse the fight before hand. “So we wouldn’t be doing long fight scenes at 3 a.m. on a Friday evening,” Jones said.
The second season also focuses much more on the mythology of Iron Fist, vs the corporate drama at Rand Enterprises that dominated much of the Season 1 narrative.
“I really wanted to bring that mythology into our season,” Metzer said. “I thought we did a really cool job of bringing some of that legacy back.”
This was most apparent in Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy (Jessica Stroup) Meachum’s storyline, which was much more intertwined within the main narrative. Metzner said he wanted to get those two away from the boardroom, saying that he loved the characters, but “not the stories that were being told or the words coming out of their mouths” in Season 1. “When they’re not talking about boardroom stuff, there’s so much interesting stuff to unpack.”
At the end of the season, Ward mentions an “Orson Randall,” which surely got comic fans buzzing. In the comics, Randall is a former Iron Fist (active during World War I and the 1920s), and Metzner said that kind of history was a point of emphasis for him this season, and teases what could be in store for a third season.
“We’ve always known of many Iron Fists,” he said. “It just informs the character and the world in such a rich way.” And Jones said that the many Iron Fists informed how he played Danny: “At one moment he can be useful and joyful and playful, and the other hand he can be reckless, he can be powerful, he can be brooding, you know there’s many different sides to Danny and it’s nice to look at the comics and get inspired by those different sides.”
While focusing on the Iron Fist mythology, the writers took the story from the comics and ran with it (for instance, Colleen doesn’t receive Iron Fist powers in the comics).
“We’re still staying within the spirit of the comic books,” Jones said of the changes. “It just feels like it’s more fleshed out. I wouldn’t really say we’re going off-book, because we’re still very much in the vein of the comics, it’s just we’re starting to play around with ideas and expand on possibilities, which I think is really nice, within the framework of the Iron Fist mythology.”
Metzner said that one of the joys of telling a comic-book story is being able to change it up.
“One of the great things about comic books is that every creator comes and gives it their own spin,” he said. “It’s all about an evolution and about doing something that’s interesting so that its not just a filmed version of a comic book you already read.”