Cobra Kai: Yet Another Blunder from the Karate Kid’s Legacy

Our film critic takes a hard look at Cobra Kai.

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It’s always a shame when beloved properties are shamelessly milked just to make a quick buck in the world of television and film.

It’s even worse when the franchise portrays such promise for a future, only for it to be squandered.

The Karate Kid franchise has been victim of both of these things for over 30 years now.

The 1984 critically acclaimed underdog story follows New Jersey native Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) moving to Reseda, California, undergoing a series of bullying from his peers, primarily from a boy named Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who was studying karate in a dojo by the name of Cobra Kai led by a cutthroat sensei (Martin Kove).

After being antagonized by Lawrence, Larusso enlists in the help of his savior from a beating, a janitor by the name of Mr. Myagi (Pat Mora) who teaches him karate to participate in a tournament to get back at his tormentors.

In typical 1980s fashion and cheesiness, Larusso becomes adept in karate, defies the odds and beats Lawrence in the regional karate championship and to earn the respect of his bully.

The Karate Kid is heralded today as one of the quintessential films of the 1980s and arguably one of the greatest martial arts films of all time.

This, however, is where the series begins to falter.

In 1986, The Karate Kid Part II was released and was met with mixed reception. The sequel followed Larusso and Mr. Myagi in a journey to his homeland of Okinawa, Japan, to see his dying father.

Although the premise and location were inherently different, Larusso, just like the first film, encounters another bully, must train and improve in karate, and fight said bully in a high-stakes match.

In 1989, the infamous Karate Kid Part III was released and was critically panned for following the same plot of the first film and for once again recycling elements. The final film in the Karate Kid trilogy was nominated for five Golden Raspberry Awards, which are given to the worst films of the year.

1989 also saw the release of the animated Karate Kid television series, which had little viewership over the course of a 13-episode season.

The franchise attempted a revival in the 1994 release of The Next Karate Kid, starring Hilary Swank in her debut role. The film was critically panned and was frequently called worse than the third part. The property remained untouched until 2010 when a remake of the first Karate Kid film was released. Starring Jaden Smith as Dre Parker and Jackie Chan as Mr. Han, the film was met with mixed reviews.

Flash forward to 2018, and the property is being milked yet again in the YouTube Red original series entitled Cobra Kai.

The biggest question I have is this: who asked for this?

From what I’ve seen, this is the sixth time the dead horse is being beaten.

This time appeared to be different, however.

As cheap as the trailer looked, upon its release on YouTube on May 1st, Cobra Kai was met to generally positive reviews from fans and critics alike, to which I was dumbfounded.

Could it be?  Could the franchise finally make a run at something above mediocrity?

The answer, upon my own viewing of the show, was a resounding no.

I simply cannot understand the positive reviews Cobra Kai is earning.

It is trivial to me that both critics and fans see this film as a recapturing of the era of which the films originally took place and to be a good product overall; it fails as both of those things.

Let’s start with my biggest problem: the characters.

Cobra Kai essentially follows the story from the perspective of Johnny Lawrence this time, approximately 34 years after fighting Daniel Larusso in the tournament.

It seems that after this fight, Johnny has absolutely let himself go, reduced to finding odd jobs to stay afloat in life.  In a time when things seem to be at their worst, Johnny becomes inspired to revitalize his karate career after a run-in with some bullies attempting to harm another kid and reconnecting with Larusso, whom has found success in life.

My major problem with this comes with all the characters of the show: none of them are interesting or likeable in themselves.

Johnny Lawrence is, to put it bluntly, a terrible person.  He’s a drunk, estranged, racist, degenerate at this point in life, disrespecting those around him and carrying an aura of selfishness and unpleasantries.

There are no good moral qualities in Johnny Lawrence’s character that make him interesting, nor is there anything remotely likeable about him.

Logically, the only way his character can maintain any sort of care or attention is because he’s the main character of the show; if that’s all you can muster from your audience regarding your most prominent character, something is gravely wrong.

Then there’s Daniel Larusso.

It seems that following this fight, Larusso has found admeasure success, namely in the sale of cars.  Larusso owns his own dealership and auto repair shop.

Larusso, just like Lawrence, isn’t an interesting character either.

Larusso is shown as Lawrence’s foil in the show; both are opposites in almost every way.

Where Lawrence is down on his luck, Larusso is wildly successful and famous.

Where Lawrence acts reclusive and distant, Larusso is very open and friendly.

Where Lawrence is unlikeable and lacks good qualities, Larusso is seemingly perfect and should be loved.

This is where both of them merge: both are equally static and uninteresting characters that lack any sort of complexity.

There are a variety of other major problems I have with the show as well.

As a fan of the original film, I was extremely bothered by the presentation of the tournament in Cobra Kai in context to the show.

In the film, after Larusso successfully defeats Lawrence, Larusso is shown being lifted up and praised for victory.

During this, Lawrence himself presents the trophy to Larusso and congratulates him on his victory, to which Larusso thanks him.

This was always one of my favorite moments of the series; it reveals how Larusso had finally come to earn the respect of Lawrence and his peers and found success. It was a fantastic, subtle moment that is essential to the ending of the film.

I suppose the creators of Cobra Kai didn’t particularly appreciate this moment just as others did.

Whenever the tournament is presented in a flashback sequence, all that is shown is Johnny Lawrence being knocked unconscious (which did not happen in the original) and never congratulating Larusso.

This small piece of the ending could completely erase the pointless hatred Lawrence seems to have for Larusso that acts as an overtone throughout the first episode.

Many of my other complaints come in the form of the plot making little to no sense.

In one scene, for example, in which Lawrence’s car is hit and suffers severe damage, upon being analyzed by Larusso, he says that the damages will cost more than the car is valued, to which Lawrence becomes dejected, as he says he does not have the money to fix it.

Yet, in a scene about three minutes later, Lawrence suddenly decides to get his life together and open his own dojo to revitalize his career in martial arts.

How can someone who cannot afford damages to a car suddenly afford to purchase space in a strip mall in the heart of Reseda, California seemingly on a whim?

Additionally, from a boarder perspective, in what way did a karate tournament cause his life to continually spiral in such a way for 34 years?  Also, how does he decide that he will now just turn his life completely around like that?

Folks who talk about Cobra Kai being a return to the world they loved as a kid are entirely deluded and blinded by the nostalgia of the film.

Much of this continuation of the story revolves around nostalgia primarily to fuel any sort of hype for such a series; I would be willing to bet that close to no one would touch this series if it wasn’t for the series name being attached to it.

It’s interesting to me that this show is one that YouTube uses as its model for why it’s new streaming service, YouTube Red, is superior to that of other streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

To me, this almost makes me apprehensive to ever give the service a chance or to even put it in the same conversation as Netflix and various other streaming platforms.

Hopefully, critics will find a way to look past the overbearing nostalgia of the Karate Kid world and realize that this series will ultimately flop and become another footnote in the sad history of The Karate Kid.