The Immortal Iron Fist. Sworn protector of K’un-Lun and enemy of the Hand, he can harness the power of his chi into his right fist to become a living weapon. Wonder Woman. Daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta, the princess of the Amazons. She uses her power as a demigod to defend the weak and stand strong in the face of danger.
Both these heroes have been brought to life on our screens, Wonder Woman in a movie and the Iron Fist as a Netflix original show. Surprisingly, these characters are very similar as you look deeper into them. Yet while Wonder Woman has been a massive success, raking in over $400 million domestically, Iron Fist was —underwhelming at best. Its the only Netflix original from Marvel that has a rotten rating, and a meager 17% at that (for comparison, the next lowest is Daredevil, sitting at a comfortable 86%). So here’s the question: Both the Iron Fist and Wonder Woman are very similar characters, with similar goals in their stories. So why was Wonder Woman a success and Iron Fist such a failure? To understand this, let's first look at what makes them similar.
Note: There are some spoilers in this article for Iron Fist and Wonder Woman, as well as very mild spoilers for The Defenders.
Both characters, at least in these adaptations, have very similar upbringings. After a tragic plane crash killed his parents, young Danny Rand was found in the mountains by monks who took him to K’un-Lun where he was raised to become the Iron Fist. Diana, in contrast, was raised on the utopia of Themyscira, an island created by Zeus to hide the Amazons from Ares. While Danny did spend the first few years of his life in New York City, Diana spent her whole life on Themyscira, and both grew up isolated from the world around them. This phase of isolation is the first similarity between the two. This is also a phase of life that they both broke out of, leading to the next similarity.
Both Danny and Diana left their isolated homes with ideals of the world. Danny thought that he could return home and return to his company, that his friends from 15 years ago would welcome him home with open arms. Diana believed in the mankind her mother told her about as a child: pure and good, only tainted by Ares. But these ideals were shattered when they found the real world. Diana found a world torn by a war worse than she had imagined, and Danny learned that not only did his friends not trust him, but the world of business was far more complicated than he would have imagined. This is their second similarity, a similar flaw of naivety. This marks the way they see the world, through a rose-tinted lens that is slowly being stripped away.
The final similarity is that both Diana and Danny are very driven. Diana entered WWI to kill Ares and end the war, while Danny left K’un-Lun to fight the Hand. Neither one lets anything get in their way, partially because of their naivety creating the assumption that the world was black and white. Diana thought that as soon as she killed Ares mankind would become pure, and Danny thought that as the immortal Iron Fist (something he’s quite fond of saying) he could find and destroy the Hand with ease while reconciling with his friends. Instead, both found a much messier world than what they were expecting, and a harsher battle.
Both our heroes found themselves in a similar situation, yet only one succeeded with audiences. Why? The first thing to look at here is tone. Diana was raised to believe in the good of mankind, while Danny was raised to fight. Wonder Woman's tone is more hopeful compared to Iron Fist’s darker tone that we have come to expect from Marvel’s Netflix originals. As an audience, we ultimately want to see our heroes succeed – even more so with a superhero movie. When you take a naïve character, they can grow two different ways as the naivety is stripped away: They can become more hopeful, understanding that the world is messy and complicated, but still holding on to hope, or they can become jaded and bitter as they cling to a dream that will never be.
Wonder Woman ultimately ended on a tone of hope. Diana accepted that mankind was not all good, and that there was darkness within all people. She was also strong enough to see and believe in the love that resides within those same hearts. She matured beautifully throughout the film from a place of naivety to one of maturity. This positive character arc created a complete story with a very satisfying ending – Ares was defeated, and Diana grew into a better person.
Danny had the potential to have a similar arc. He started immature and naïve, not understanding the world around him and thinking that everything could be solved by fighting. He certainly learned to grow and became a better business man throughout the season, but as far as personal growth goes, he is the same character in The Defenders that he was in Iron Fist: bull-headed and single-minded. In the end, we didn’t get the satisfaction of seeing Danny grow and learn that we got from the ending of Wonder Woman. What’s worse is the ending of Iron Fist gave hope that Danny might grow between seasons, with Claire calling him out on his naivety, but it didn’t happen. Character growth is essential to a good story, even if it means that the main character takes a dark turn. A lack of growth rarely makes for an interesting story, which is part of what holds Iron Fist back.
The other way that Iron Fist was held back was the way that the hero was portrayed. Diana’s naivety was used to show the horrors of war, but also highlighted the good in people as others followed her lead and she showed them the light within people. In contrast, Danny’s constant disregard for the advice of people around him and his stubbornness simply makes him seem childish, a trait he doesn’t grow out of. Heck, he personally declares war on the Hand by himself in The Defenders. This creates a selfish, childish character that is portrayed in a more negative light than Diana’s wonder at the world around her. Without a significant change in character across the season, this leaves us with a disappointing character arc.
The characters of Iron Fist and Wonder Woman are both similar at their core, however, both had a very different character arc that gave us two distinct endings. While Wonder Woman gave us a satisfying ending where she grew beyond her flaw and became a better person, Danny was basically the same person at the end of the season and beyond. In the end, the difference between Iron Fist and Wonder Woman shows how important character development is to a well-rounded and satisfying story, and how easily you can lead a naïve character astray.