WARNING: The following article contains minor spoilers for Marvel’s “Iron Fist,” arriving March 17 on Netflix.
The final Defender will arrive in the Marvel/Netflix universe on Friday when “Iron Fist” makes its long-anticipated debut. In it, Danny Rand must fight his own battle before he can join ranks with Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock to take on Alexandra — Sigourney Weaver’s mystery villain — this summer in “The Defenders.”
On the surface, the Defenders are the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most unlikely heroes. What does a blind guy from Hell’s Kitchen have in common with the son of a billionaire? What does an alcoholic private eye have in common with a wrongly convicted escaped convict? But while it might not look like these street-level heroes are similar, they are. Their shared commonality is not in their powers, their pasts or their socioeconomic class; it’s in their pain, their brokenness, their weakness, and their ability to embrace the hero within in spite of all those things. This is what separates Marvel’s Netflix heroes from both Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes and heroes on other superhero television shows. These characters aren’t perfect nor are they polished and Netflix has never been afraid to showcase their rough edges.
This stark reality will be front and center in “Iron Fist.” When Danny returns from K’un-Lun he will be broken and alone, and the Meachums and the Hand will try to break him even more to preserve the work that they are doing in New York City.
Finding Common Ground in Pain
Enter Danny who, as we see over the course of the first two episodes, is dealing with severe PTSD. If you aren’t familiar with Danny’s history, the main thing to know aside form his role as Iron Fist is that he was part of the terrifying plane crash that claimed the lives of both his parents. These horrific memories replay in Danny’s mind over and over again in the first two episodes, showing that, yes, Danny has incredible powers, but he’s not invulnerable, he’s not perfect. In fact, his return to New York City after 15 years is not a symbol of his readiness to take on The Hand because he has perfected his training — it’s quite the opposite, in fact. He must fight The Hand to complete his training. He’s not ready yet and in the first half of the series, he makes a lot of mistakes. But it’s these very vulnerabilities, these traumatic memories, that give him common ground with the other Defenders.
We know Matt Murdock’s pain. We know how traumatized he was to lose his sight and then his father. We know that no matter how tough he appears on the outside, he’s still that little boy swinging at the ropes on the inside. Showing the audience this internal struggle makes Matt compelling, makes him more real, makes the audience root for him when he keeps fighting.
The same applies to Luke Cage. Luke’s reputation is that of a bulletproof man. While that might be true for his body and his skin, that’s not true of his heart. We saw just how hurt he was when Reeva was killed, when Pops died, when his own brother betrayed him. It’s that intense vulnerability in Luke that makes people love him, makes people mourn when he mourns, and cry when he cries.
Jessica Jones might be the most damaged of them all, and yet she’s the strongest of them physically. When she picked up Kilgrave in the final moments of Season 1 all she had to do was snap his neck and he was dead. But his torment of her in those previous years made her an angry, edgy, volatile drunk. She wore her heart on her sleeve under a guise of sarcasm and disinterest, and yet she let Kilgrave back into her life in an effort to save the innocent woman whom Kilgrave framed.
Netflix Doesn’t Tell Origin Stories
Most superhero shows and films are about the discovery of a hero’s powers. In “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Daisy Johnson gets exposed to Terrigen Mist and transforms into the Quake. In “The Flash,” Barry Allen gets hit by lighting and becomes The Flash. In “Captain America: The First Avenger” Steve Rogers gets injected with the super soldier serum and becomes Captain America.
Netflix, on the other hand, does not tell origin stories. “Daredevil” isn’t about Matt getting powers — it’s about him choosing to use them. “Jessica Jones” isn’t about Jessica gaining super-strength — it’s about her using that strength to confront her abuser. In “Luke Cage,” Luke already has skin of steel when the show begins, and the series explores what happens when uses it to bust up the gangs in his town.
The same goes for Danny Rand. “Iron Fist” is not about what happened in K’un-Lun, it’s about what Danny is willing to do with the training he received there.
Each Netflix series shows the transformation of people who could, arguably even should in some cases, turn their backs on the world, people who have been orphaned and abandoned and have nothing left to live for. Danny’s parents are dead, and the Meachums don’t want him to inherit his company, so they do what they can to prevent him from staking his claim. Danny literally has nothing left in the world, but he’s been endowed with the power of the Iron Fist and he knows he has to use it for good — just like Jessica, Luke and Matt. He doesn’t exactly know who he is, but he’s willing to figure it out, and each obstacle that comes his way tests his resolve even more.
This decision is Danny’s struggle in “Iron Fist” Season 1. Without spoiling anything, there is a scene where Danny has to choose between letting someone die or letting someone win. The Iron Fist would let an innocent person die if it meant gaining an advantage against The Hand, but Danny wants to let them live. It’s a powerful moment that illustrates the battle raging within him. Is he Danny Rand? Is he Iron Fist? Can he be both? That is the question Season 1 asks over and over again, an is the question asked of all the Defenders. Can they be both damaged and heroic? Can they be both themselves and their superhero alter egos? The resounding answer is yes, as long as they keep choosing to embrace both sides of themselves.
“Iron Fist” premieres March 17 exclusively on Netflix and stars Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick and Rosario Dawson.
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