Cobra Kai review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The Karate Kid was such an inspirational sports film that has been given numerous sequels, spin-offs, and reboots over the years. The premises was relatively the same. An underdog learns the ways of karate and attempts to prove themselves in a match that they are just proficient in their athletic field but respectable of its ways. This usually meant the hero would be faced with a rival who broke the rules, in the case of the original set of Karate Kid movies being the school of Cobra Kai. Johnny Lawrence was the challenger of the first film and fought dirty, labeling him as a clear antagonist for the young audience.
Years have passed, however, and we now return to Johnny as a much different person. That childish rivalry now behind him, he seeks a means of redemption. His life has been a mess since, having fallen from grace within his wealthy sphere and suffering a failed relationship and a kid that came with it. But rather than take the route of Creed II, where the villain still holds this grudge for his son to fight the next generation of underdogs, Johnny finds a way out of the darkness rather than the path of revenge.
He notices his teenage neighbor, Miguel Diaz, being hassled by some bullies and decides to dust off his karate skills to stick up for the kid. With Miguel’s mother impressed, she asks if Johnny can teach his son some defense. Thus begins Johnny’s reopening of the Cobra Kai karate dojo and learning from his mistakes of the past. This presents a new set of problems, however, as Johnny’s rival of Daniel LaRusso, the hero of The Karate Kid, is now in a similar state of despair but more from an emotional angle. He can’t connect with his kids and finds his life empty after his master Mr. Miyagi passed away. Maybe karate can solve the problems of the two rivals.
What makes the Cobra Kai series soar where other dusted-off franchise continuations fail is that it finds more to do with the characters past the expected bouts of who is the strongest and noblest of them all. Johnny and Daniel are grown-ups and to think they’d still be in a similar state of looking for fights seems childish and bereft of development, as though they never aged. They have aged and their lives have changed. In many ways, the more tribalists of the Karate Kid movies may quake in terror that their favorite hero is now a sleazy car salesman with relationship issues. But I believe it makes these characters all the more interesting that they can find some meaning and suffer relatable issues with longing and loss with age. The students become the masters not by being the same but growing with time. And that growing need not be as a base and silly as muscles getting bigger and kicks being harder.
Cobra Kai is such an engagingly immersive drama that I can fully say you need zero knowledge of The Karate Kid to fully appreciate its story of maturing with age and finding something more after the match. Whereas Johnny and Daniel were mere rivals in a climbing sports picture with an iconic legacy, they transform into unique people as William Zabka and Ralph Macchio return to their roles with more to say and a bigger script to munch on. They do not disappoint in a series that finds far more to explore with the lore of The Karate Kid than even the movies could divulge. Easily the best series to come out of the short-lived YouTube Red streaming service (RIP).