After the debut of Daredevil in 2015, the bar for the Marvel series that would debut on Netflix was set incredibly high. Jessica Jones built on its momentum by introducing a fierce private investigator who is not only solving problems for strangers but working to put her own past behind her. Jessica Jones also introduced the star of Luke Cage for the first time, and the series continued to ride the Marvel wave of success. However, the 2017 premiere of Iron Fist would halt the momentum of the Netflix Marvel shows.
Unlike its predecessors, the premiere of Iron Fist was met with underwhelming reviews. As it currently stands, Daredevil has an average Rotten Tomatoes rating of 92% over the course of three seasons. After running for the same length, Jessica Jones earned an average rating of 83% while Luke Cage earned an 88% after two seasons. Iron Fist reins in significantly less than its predecessors with an average of only 37% amongst its two seasons. The Defenders, which brought the four heroes together, managed to earn a rating slightly higher than the average of all the series with a 78% rating.
Iron Fist follows Danny Rand (Finn Jones) as he returns to New York after a 15-year absence. He and his parents were involved in a plane crash where all members of the family were presumed dead. Following his New York return, Danny attempts to meet with the Meachums, who are now in charge of Rand Enterprises. Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy (Jessica Stroup) are unconvinced that Danny is who he says he is, but are soon forced to realize that he may actually be who they're afraid to admit that he is. Along the way, Danny makes an ally of Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) who eventually agrees to team up with him to stop The Hand.
Despite being deemed largely unsuccessful with its viewers, Iron Fist did keep several of the previous series' tactics going. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) appeared in the series as a student of Colleen's dojo. Claire had previously appeared in Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage to provide physical and emotional aid to the gifted set of heroes. That role continues for her in Iron Fist, but she isn't the only character that crosses over. Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) who served as a focal piece of Jessica Jones was also present as Danny's lawyer in his case against the Meachums.
Ultimately, Danny's story lacked a level of grit that Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage brought to the table. Danny's struggles stemmed from inheriting Rand Enterprises and battling the mystic entity of The Hand. The internal conflict of Danny's identity as a billionaire and the Iron Fist is meant to add a depth to his character that doesn't really shine through. Even the villains in Iron Fist feel lackluster and largely insignificant, which was a massive step down from Daredevil's Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio), Jessica Jones' Kilgrave (David Tennant), and Luke Cage's Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) and Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard). The only redemption that tries to shine through for Danny's character is in a spin-off series where he's splitting screen time with three other gifted heroes.
Even in The Defenders, Danny failed to redeem himself. As the one amongst the four of them that had the most knowledge about the threat they faced (the only exception being Daredevil), Danny should have been a much bigger deal. However, his dynamic amongst the group largely reflects the treatment he received from viewers. Perhaps Danny's most redeeming quality is the unlikely friendship he strikes with Luke Cage over the course of the eight-episode series. The relationship between Luke and Danny derives from their Heroes for Hire comics that originated as Power Man and Iron Fist.
In the comics, the Defenders aren't a concrete group and the series didn't do much to change that. Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand all go their separate ways by the end of The Defenders. As Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist all continued following The Defenders, there is plenty of room to play around with the lineup. Within the New York setting for each of these series, there are plenty of other heroes who could have a run-in with them. Now that additional Marvel characters are being introduced in the Marvel series that originated on Disney Plus, Marvel could decide to alter the lineup of the Defenders or any related groups in the future.
Despite the lackluster reception Iron Fist received following its premiere, Marvel has proven that it has the ability to tell a well-told story of a skilled martial artist who is battling two sides of their identity. The 2021 release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings told a much more convincing story of a young man who is conflicted about the path he is destined to take. If Marvel is looking to get the Defenders back together, or if they're looking to make a change to their lineup, they wouldn't need to look any further than Xu Shang-Chi. In fact, Shang-Chi is exactly what Iron Fist was meant to be.
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