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Launched in 2015, Marvel's Netflix shows have been beloved by fans and critics alike. And then came Iron Fist, a show the critics fumed at and the fans reluctantly defended. Sure, it was a hit in terms of viewing figures, but it was generally seen as the weakest Marvel Netflix series to date. Finn Jones's performance as Danny Rand was heavily criticized, with fans struggling to see any trace of the character they've loved since 1974.
With a second series already announced, it fell to The Defenders to show fans that Finn Jones was the right man for the job and get fans excited about what's coming next. So to what extent has The Defenders been successful?
Note: This article contains light spoilers for The Defenders.
A Strong Defender Dynamic
The first bit of good news is that Finn Jones definitely has the right dynamic when it comes to interacting with the other stars. That's especially the case with Mike Colter's #LukeCage, and the series goes to great effort to put the two side-by-side as often as possible. They nail the classic superhero pair dynamic; they fight each other when they first meet, get in what Claire dismisses as a "pissing contest," and ultimately become tremendous allies. There's a lengthy conversation between the two -- with Luke assigned to watch over #IronFist and ensure he doesn't escape -- that allows both actors to shine, and we actually start to find Danny Rand likable.
Better Fight Choreography
One major complaint against the first season of Iron Fist was the quality of the fight sequences, which were less than breathtaking. Given the series starred one of #Marvel's greatest martial artists, many fans found that unforgivable. Again, good news: in The Defenders, we actually get to see why Danny Rand was viewed worthy of becoming K'un Lun's greatest defender. Finn Jones had promised us "slicker (...) more grounded" fight choreography, and he really pulls it off.
In a smart move, though, Marvel doesn't hide the fact that Iron Fist seems less skilled than Daredevil. Murdock is introduced by Stick as one of the best fighters he's ever seen, and there are a number of scenes that put Iron Fist and Daredevil side-by-side, allowing us to compare the two. Daredevil is more of a scrapper, more conservative and less energetic, but he's clearly the more capable. It's a tacit admission from Marvel, but also a hint that — for all his years of training — Danny Rand is not yet the warrior he will one day become.
Finn Jones's casting was controversial from the start, with Iron Fist seen by many as a form of cultural appropriation. Where Iron Fist made heavy-handed attempts to deal with this, The Defenders calls out social themes quite explicitly. The initial dynamic between Luke Cage and Iron Fist is one colored by social awareness, with Luke fuming that Danny was born into privilege. It's just the kind of initial first encounter you'd expect between the street-smart Luke Cage and the wealthy warrior, and it adds an intriguing social dynamic to the show.
'The Defenders' calls out social themes quite explicitly.
Things only really kick off because Danny realizes that his wealthy industrialist background is in itself a weapon and heads to Midland Circle to confront the Hand. Rather than contenting himself with beating up street hoods who were just trying to feed their families, Danny actually takes the fight to the Hand, and as a result unwittingly brings the heroes together.
A Well-Rounded Character
That said, The Defenders is also open and honest about Iron Fist's character flaws. It faces them head-on, reminding us that, even though he's a strong warrior, Danny Rand simply isn't that smart. In one scene, he winds up in a pointless fight against the rest of the team, and they're forced to imprison him for the sake of the entire city. In another, Elektra manipulates his emotions with effortless ease. Danny Rand's lack of emotional awareness literally risks destroying the entire city.
But here's the thing: these character flaws were present in Iron Fist, and it wouldn't be right to airbrush them out now. Instead, The Defenders pulls off a much smarter sleight of hand. It balances those flaws by reminding us of Danny's good qualities, too. We see his devotion to duty, his commitment to his cause, and his belief in others. Iron Fists's fundamental motivation is a duty of love, one that embraces the whole human race. Finn Jones plays the part well, and at times there's a real emotional subtlety, with a single scene revealing both Danny's strengths and weaknesses.
Fans were disappointed by Finn Jones's portrayal in Iron Fist, but the good news is that the character is redeemed in The Defenders. The series pulls no punches, subtly acknowledging the flaws of Iron Fist, but also casting them in a better light. It gives us a plot that demonstrates Iron Fist's courage and compassion and sets him up for a far stronger second series. Finn Jones is an excellent actor, and now we can finally see why Marvel chose him for this role.