Cobra Kai is the recent YouTube Red original series that serves as a sequel to the Karate Kid films, picking up 34 years after the first movie, with both William Zapka and Ralph Macchio reprising their original roles.
The series opens with a present-day Johnny Lawrence being fired from his job, cementing their portrayal of the character as an aging drunkard. Living in his apartment complex is the young high school student Miguel Diaz who experiences severe physical bullying at the hands of his classmates. To regain purpose in life, Johnny reopens the Cobra Kai dojo to train Miguel in the ways of Cobra Kai. Contrarily, Daniel LaRusso has become a successful entrepreneur, owning and operating the lucrative LaRusso Auto Group. As the series develops, the rivalry between Daniel and Johnny is rekindled, with Daniel likewise returning to his martial arts roots and training a young protégé of his own.
What truly carry this series are William Zapka’s performance and the relationship between his character and Miguel. Both Miguel and Johnny undergo compelling character development throughout the series, and the audience’s investment in their characters truly propels the drama.
Ralph Macchio’s performance as Daniel isn’t quite as riveting as Zapka’s, but it’s still quality nonetheless. The series introduces other new characters including Johnny’s son, Robby Keene, and Daniel’s daughter, Samantha LaRusso, all of whom are quite compelling. What truly makes the 10-episode series fly by is the fact that the majority of the characters are not only compelling, but they are likable. As an audience member, I enjoyed watching Johnny and Miguel grow their relationship. I enjoyed watching Daniel and Johnny interact, and almost most importantly, I enjoyed watching all of the new characters on screen.
A risk of creating a series of this nature is that the audience may be uninterested in the new cast members, wishing for the original characters to return any time the new ones are on screen. Luckily, this series spends time developing the new cast to a point where you are invested in the story regardless of whether Johnny and Daniel are on screen, or Miguel and Samantha.
Another aspect in which Cobra Kai exceeds greatly is that of the balance between the new story and throwbacks to the original film. The nostalgia is utilized magnificently, whether its a return to a location from the original film, the use of a song from the original soundtrack, or the return of an original cast member. These moments are a lot of fun, but they don’t detract from the integrity of the new story, which could stand on it’s own even without the aspect of nostalgia.
However, Cobra Kai isn’t perfect. one weakness the series suffers from is the choreography. Sometimes, it’s fantastic, but at other times, the action becomes too over-the-top for an audience member like me to take seriously. Luckily. the strengths of Cobra Kai far outnumber the weaknesses, and although the series isn’t perfect, it remains a spectacular watch.
I was genuinely surprised by the depth of Cobra Kai. The idea of fatherlessness is a central theme of the series, and it is explored quite effectively, which I found refreshing considering its rarity in Hollywood productions. The series also characterizes itself as a battle of ideas, similarly to the original Karate Kid film. The central conflict of the series isn’t Johnny vs. Daniel or Miguel vs. the bullies, it’s Cobra Kai vs Miyagi Do Karate. It’s Cobra Kai’s concept of “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy” vs. Mr. Miyagi’s ideas of balance within one’s self, using karate for defense only, and making peace within yourself and with your enemies.
As a libertarian with conservative leanings, I saw a vivid comparison between Cobra Kai karate and socialism.
When Johnny first agrees to train Miguel, he promises to himself that he will not coach Miguel in the same hyper-violent Cobra Kai of John Kreese, his sensei from the original film. However, Cobra Kai is still Cobra Kai. Despite Johnny’s efforts, by the end of the series, Miguel has become just as violent and merciless as the original Cobra Kai. This is put on full display at the All Valley Karate Tournament in the climax of the final episode, cleverly titled “Mercy.” To Johnny’s dismay, Kreese returns the end of the episode to congratulate him on his work with Miguel.
Likewise, many leftists of today campaign for socialist policies such as government healthcare, “free” college, and $15/hour minimum wages. These advocates attempt to separate their proposed policies from those of direct Marxism or the practices of failed communist states such as Venezuela. Regardless of these efforts, however, socialism is still socialism. Implementing “free” healthcare for all may not seem harmful, in fact to many, it seems beneficial, but if we as a nation tread the road of socialism, we will arrive in the same place as Venezuela. Just as Cobra Kai is still Cobra Kai, regardless of how one tries to frame it, socialism is still socialism.
All things considered, Cobra Kai is a magnificent series worthy of your time. It delivers a compelling drama overflowing with heart, while simultaneously being a whole lot of fun.