Dating back to that now-iconic hallway fight in Season 1 of Daredevil, Marvel's Netflix shows have always had a high bar for their stunt work. Every new season of each of its shows aims to push the limit and try something newer and cooler along the way.
So, new Iron Fist stunt coordinator Clayton Barber knew the pressure was on when it came time to map out how Danny, Colleen, and Misty would be kicking butt and taking names in Season 2. But, instead of trying to one-up what had come before, Barber tried to bring a punk rock approach to the new-look Immortal Iron Fist. Instead of one insane action set piece, Barber and his team tried to keep that level of action flowing from start to finish.
"There's a certain amount of competitive edge any coach would have coming in trying to do this stuff, as you set a bar internally and say ‘This is what they did on Season 1 of Daredevil, that's the benchmark,' but we really wanted to set our own benchmark for the arc of the season from episode 1 to 10," Barber told SYFY WIRE. "We wanted it to be like an album. We wanted it to make sense all the way through to the end, instead of picking one fight and making it badass. We tried to do our own thing, make our own ‘songs' in our own way. I feel like in Iron Fist we have 6-8 scenes that kind of stand out over the season. I went for eight good songs instead of one masterful song. I mean, Daredevil is like 'Stairway to Heaven' [laughs], so we wanted to do our own thing."
So which fights stood out the most from the "album" of Season 2? Barber said there were a few that shined this season, most notably Colleen's fight with the Crane sisters, the big kitchen fight in the premiere, and the K'un-Lun flashback fight between Danny and Davos.
"That kitchen fight in Episode 1 really established the tone, and was just the perfect environment with the texture, because you have banging pots and food and all this energy," he said. "Then, of course, the K'un-Lun fight was extremely special. It's the first time we see K'un-Lunn in this universe, and it was a real challenge when [showrunner] Raven [Metzner] said their hands would be tied. It was really thinking outside the box, and it opens up something really special for that fight."
But which fight was Barber's absolute favorite? That'd be Colleen vs. the Crane sisters.
"That one is really just special," he said. "It's so beautiful, and you had three people that could really do it and live in that scene without doubling them. You can look at the fight and there are zero doubles, and it turned out just so cool."
When honing the look and feel of Iron Fist's action scenes, Barber said he wanted to tap into a kinetic energy that evoked everything from modern action like The Raid and John Wick, to the swinging vibe of old kung-fu movies. But, the most important thing was to make sure every move had meaning.
"Movies now are really taking tempo to another level, and I wanted to meet that with a retro action feel, and bring it into 2018, and add more bang and tempo," he said. "The choreography is like words in a script. I wanted to make sure anything we're doing had meaning. The punches had meaning, the kicks had meaning, and the throws had meaning."
One of the most interesting aspects of Season 2 was the introduction of some wildly varied fighting styles, ranging from Danny and Colleen's more fluid kung fu to Misty Knight's brawler moves. To find a way to make all those styles work on the same show — and sometimes in the same scene — Barber said he went right back to his punk rock concept. In this case, figuring out how each style contributed to the "band" as it played.
"It's great when you have different characters, with different things they can do, and different styles you can juxtapose in creating that punk song," he said. "One person plays the drums, another plays guitar, and it's a weird analogy but you get my point."
It helped that most of the stars actually did the majority of their own stunts this year, a level of realism Barber pushed for and a concept he said the entire cast bought into pretty quickly.
"I believe a fight scene isn't a stunt scene, it's an acting scene with movement and drama. I want the actors to become that character, and own the moves. It pays off when we come back to the emotional moment of the fight, and you want the camera looking at your face, not a wig or something from a double," he said. "That was my approach, and I just told the actors, let's make a contract and you're gonna play the character. And they got after it. They put in the work, and Finn [Jones] put in so much work, and I was so pleased with his work ethic. It makes all the difference. And Jessica Henwick has just such a great memory and is so good."
Barber's previous work on Marvel Studios' acclaimed blockbuster Black Panther helped him land the Iron Fist gig, and he explained there are some distinct differences when working on something of that scale compared to a TV series. But, Barber said the real trick is to just embrace the contrasts and make the best out of the medium you're in.
"With a movie you have more time to train, to conceive things, to run everything through the animation department, and to set-up rigs. Everything is just bigger," he said. "But in TV you almost have to run and gun with a much more limited window, going back-to-back to the next fight… It's not about throwing guys across the sky, it's much more organic on something like Iron Fist. Danny isn't really a superhero like that, he's a very organic person doing this action. We wanted to bring that retro style into this universe."
Season 2 of Iron Fist is now on Netflix.