It is no secret that Marvel has dominated the streaming world with their Netflix-exclusive series. Providing a darker and more mature take on the MCU, the Marvel-Netflix shows have been a huge success for the studio and the streaming service. After the critical success and extremely positive fan reception to Daredevil, Netflix followed up with the equally successful Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, setting a high bar for the fourth show, Iron Fist, to reach.
Amidst a white-washing controversy and rumors of a rushed production schedule, Iron Fist was released to hugely negative reviews. Scoring a mere 17% on Rotten Tomatoes, a stark contrast to Daredevil's 87%, Jessica Jones' 92%, and Luke Cage's 96%, Iron Fist was poorly received by critics and audiences alike. Is it fair to say that the negativity towards Iron Fist was overblown? Was the show really the worst of the Marvel shows on Netflix? Well, we here at CBR are looking at a contrary view, and have decided to explore 15 reasons why Iron Fist may actually be BETTER than its immediate predecessor, Luke Cage.
SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers for Luke Cage season 1 and Iron Fist season 1
15 BETTER VILLAIN
Luke Cage started off with an extremely compelling villain in Cottonmouth. It could be argued that he had the potential to be one of the MCU's greatest villains, following in the tradition of the Netflix villains being amongst the franchise's best. Unfortunately, by the end of the seventh episode, Cottonmouth was killed and the season's true villain showed up to fight Luke. This second villain, Diamondback, was nowhere near as strong or compelling as Cottonmouth and contributed to the weakest elements of Luke Cage.
On the other hand, Harold Meachum, the main villain of Iron Fist’s inaugural season, was an extremely intriguing character. From his death and resurrection (twice!), his personal relationship with Danny Rand, and his central role in the family drama that encompassed the season, Harold never lost the viewer’s interest.
14 TONAL CONSISTENCY
The Marvel-Netflix universe has one main quality that it is continually defined by: it is the darker counterpart to Marvel’s lighthearted movies and network shows on ABC. This dark tone has allowed the Netflix series to explore mature concepts and feel more grounded than the average comic book adaptation. Luke Cage began its run keeping in line with this tone; however, as the season progressed, the show gradually became less grounded and gained a campy feel.
Iron Fist never strayed from its original tone, remaining consistent in its feel throughout the thirteen-episode run. While campiness does not deny a comic book show the right to be good, it is the drastic shift in tone that causes Luke Cage to falter. Leaving viewers confused as to what the show was trying to be, the inconsistent tone leaves Luke Cage a step behind the consistency of Iron Fist.
13 SLOW BURN
One of the largest complaints when it came to Iron Fist was the slow pace, leaving many viewers with the feeling that the show was stretched out longer than it needed to be. Luke Cage took a different approach and started off with a lot of momentum, only to become slower paced as the season went on. While an initial slow pace does challenge viewers, it does not take away from the excellence of the action-packed final episodes of Iron Fist. The show continuously gained speed while Luke Cage continually lost it.
The slow burn of Iron Fist is a stronger approach to a show’s pacing, as it leaves viewers with a large payoff towards the end of the season, rather than leaving them bored and unfulfilled as Luke Cage did by slowing down after its hard-hitting first half. While Luke Cage fizzled out with the second half of its season, Iron Fist only got better and more intense, leaving viewers with a satisfying closing arc to a slower-paced show.
Once again, the biggest fault of Luke Cage is the weak villain, Diamondback. As the season progresses, the main threat to the hero becomes his revenge-seeking brother, who attempts to turn Harlem against Luke and ultimately kill him. Overall, Diamondback does not feel like a huge threat to Luke or the world, and fails to make an impact as a foe with any chance of succeeding. Meanwhile, The Hand is the biggest threat to Danny in Iron Fist as they attempt to take over New York and have control over Harold.
The Hand feels threatening to viewers, as they manipulate everyone they encounter and clearly have more power than the hero. Without a proper threat to make viewers fear for the hero, Luke Cage loses its impact as the stakes feel so low. On the other hand (pun intended), viewers are never sure how or even if Danny will win when he faces off against an ancient organization with magical powers.
11 CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
Over the course of the 13 episodes of Luke Cage season 1, the title character remains static. Luke does not learn or change as a person, as he goes from a strong man with unbreakable skin who refuses to fight crime, into a strong man with unbreakable skin who reluctantly fights crime. However, Danny Rand in Iron Fist grows up a lot during his 13-episode series.
Both characters had the same amount of time and opportunity to change and grow, but it is ultimately Danny that changes the most. Starting out as a naïve, immature, fresh-faced man-child, he learns to control his powers and becomes a smarter and stronger man by the end of the show. Every story needs strong character development, and Luke Cage refuses to do so, leaving Iron Fist with stronger character development for its lead role.
10 COLLEEN WING
Arguably the most popular character to emerge from Iron Fist was Danny’s love interest, Colleen Wing. A strong woman who excels in martial arts, Colleen becomes much more than the standard love interest in a male-led series. Being smart, capable, and most of all independent, Colleen became a fan favorite for both Iron Fist and the MCU.
Most of the praise directed at the show went towards Jessica Henwick’s portrayal of the iconic character, with many people wanting to see more of her as the Netflix-Marvel universe continues to expand. Colleen is by far the strongest character in the show, and the only female character to match Claire Temple in Marvel’s Netflix shows; although, admittedly, Simone Missick's Misty Knight does run a close second in that regard.
By episode 10, viewers were rooting for Danny and Colleen to take out The Hand, only to discover that Colleen was actually a member of a good faction of the organization. This was the ultimate twist in the series, leaving Danny feeling betrayed and leaving viewers to wonder if there really were good and bad factions of The Hand, rather than an entire organization of evil. This was impossible to predict and kept the show exciting as we watched Danny struggle to trust his closest ally.
The strength of this twist kept the show interesting and elevated it above its original status as the questions of morality and trust became central issues. The only twist to rival this in Luke Cage is the appearance of Diamondback, which once again causes problems for the show. It is revealed by the second half of the season that Diamondback is responsible for all the trouble being caused in Harlem, and that the Stokes siblings were merely pawns in his plan to take down his brother. This resulted in a less interesting show, as the twist left many viewers feeling as if Diamondback was not as strong a villain as Cottonmouth or Black Mariah.
8 NO BEST CHARACTER DEATH
While Danny Rand is the protagonist of Iron Fist, it is Colleen Wing who steals the spotlight, and becomes the show’s most compelling character to watch. Colleen is developed over the season and stole the hearts of viewers everywhere. She becomes more complex throughout the season, as she is a love interest who is also revealed to be a member of The Hand, able to defend herself, and a capable woman, intellectually, spiritually and physically.
Beginning with Daredevil season 1, the Marvel-Netflix shows held a trend of having the villains be the most compelling characters in their shows. From Wilson Fisk to Killgrave and The Punisher, this trend continued with Cottonmouth in Luke Cage. Unfortunately, Cottonmouth is killed about halfway through the season, and the show loses its most compelling character. Many critics and viewers claim to have lost most of their interest due to the loss of a such a strong character. Killing the most interesting character in the show was a huge mistake for Luke Cage and was the downfall of the show.
7 A WILLING HERO
Luke spends the early episodes of his show downright refusing to be the hero that Harlem needs. He is aware of the corruption caused by Cottonmouth and investigates only slightly when it affects him. It takes the murder of his father figure and local hero Pop to push Luke over the edge that causes him to accept his role as the hero of Harlem. The city clearly needed Luke before Pop’s death, and it was frustrating for viewers to see a man with superhuman strength and bulletproof skin refuse to help his city when he knew it needed him.
Conversely, Danny immediately begins to investigate The Hand as soon as he notices their influence on his family company. When he sees the corruption they have placed upon Rand Industries, as well as the drug trade they are involved with, Danny goes into full hero mode and tries his best to defeat the organization.
One of the most interesting aspects of the mythology associated with Iron Fist is the history of K’un-Lun and the role of the Iron Fist. Davos is the show’s tie to Danny’s past as a monk in K’un-Lun where he became the Iron Fist, and he allows the show to explore Danny’s origin of becoming the protector of the ancient city.
Davos is Danny’s friend from his training, but he becomes much more. Davos’ jealousy of Danny turns him into a morally ambiguous character who cannot be completely trusted. He has his own agenda to take down Danny and claim the role of the Iron Fist for himself, imposing a threat on Danny that only the viewers are aware of. The season concludes with him admitting his plan to Danny’s childhood friend, Joy Meachum, leaving viewers with anticipation to see where Davos’ story goes in season 2.
5 ZHOU CHENG
As Danny infiltrates The Hand’s heroin factory in episode 8, he stumbles across Zhou Cheng, another martial arts master. The resulting fight sequence is the most memorable of the whole show, entirely due to Cheng’s character. Injecting humor into the serious scene, Cheng poses a great threat to Danny as he drunkenly fights the hero.
Cheng is a rare occurrence in superhero media; a memorable one-off villain. Most villains that don’t become recurring are usually not memorable to viewers and are forgotten to the throngs of one-off baddies that show up to fight superheroes. Cheng breaks this trend and is one of the most memorable characters in Iron Fist, despite only appearing for a few minutes.
4 BETTER FAMILY DRAMA
One of the ongoing subplots throughout the season is the drama that encompasses the Meachum family. Harold’s faked death and secret control of Rand industries ends up being too much for his son, Ward, to handle. Ward becomes a drug addicted wreck, which in turn creates friction with his sister, Joy.
The Meachum family drama centered around Ward’s relationships with his father and sister, and is one of the most interesting elements in the show. Ward is a complex secondary character, whose own problems end up affecting Danny and the show’s main plot. Watching Ward’s downward spiral as he attempts to keep his family together, but also remain somewhat loyal to Danny, results in a subplot that kept viewers interested in its outcome and impact on the show’s secondary characters.
3 STRONGER FINALE
Every season of every show leads up to the ultimate climax and setup for the following season in its inevitable finale. Season finales are always anticipated and are a high moment for shows and their viewers. Iron Fist emerged with a much stronger finale than that of Luke Cage. While the finale of Luke Cage began with an exhilarating fight scene, it fizzled out afterwards and ended up a boring mess of placing characters in their positions for The Defenders team-up series and season 2.
The Iron Fist finale remained action-packed almost all the way through, as Danny faces off with Harold and The Hand. Viewers were left with a satisfying conclusion to Harold and Ward’s relationship, and then were quickly given many intriguing cliffhangers to lead into the next season. The finale was a showcase of the series’ strongest aspects, which wrapped up the season’s main arcs and also left many questions unanswered for future plotlines.
2 CLAIRE TEMPLE'S ROLE
The main connection between all of the Marvel-Netflix shows is Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple. The only character to appear in all four shows, Claire has become a fan favorite in addition to her importance in the MCU. That’s why her character in Luke Cage was a disappointment. Being demoted to Luke’s love-interest and not much more, Claire’s arc in the show was boring and paled in comparison to her strong role in Daredevil and her excellent guest appearance in Jessica Jones.
Claire returned in Iron Fist as a changed woman. She began martial arts training under Colleen’s wing, and used her new skills to help Danny fight The Hand. Claire was overall used to a much better capacity in Iron Fist as her brains and brawn were put on display throughout the season while she aided Danny.
1 CONNECTIONS TO THE MCU
With the lead up to The Defenders series this summer, viewers anticipated many connections throughout the Marvel-Netflix shows. Sadly, by the end of Luke Cage, they were left disappointed. The show did not contain many connections, most of which were left as vague references to “a really good attorney” and a clip of an episode of “Trish Talk” being played on the radio.
Marvel loves to boast the “it’s all connected” philosophy of their cinematic universe, and the lack of connectivity in Luke Cage hurt the series. Iron Fist, however, contained many more connections. Including a multiple-episode arc with Jeri Hogarth from Jessica Jones and the heavy involvement of The Hand, the show felt much more connected to the overall universe, and therefore felt much more important in the grand scheme of the MCU.
Did we convince you that Iron Fist might be better than Luke Cage, or at very least better than you thought? Let us know in the comments!