Cobra Kai: Season One Review
In 1985 I saw a movie that changed my life. As a seven year old watching a underdog of a kid learn Karate from doing household chores and master the Crane Kick, which if done right there is no defense (well until the sequel anyway), and win a Karate tournament was awe inspiring. I mimicked those tasks repetitively and practiced the Crane kick till I had it perfect. Over the years I would watch and rewatch those movies which have become a part of popular culture and the first movie, The Karate Kid, is enjoyable today as it was all those years ago.
There have been various attempts to spin off or reboot the franchise over the years with an animated series, another live action movie where My Miyagi takes on another student and a complete reboot staring Jaden Smith. All of them have failed to capture the magic of the original movie. Until now.
Cobra Kai, a flagship show for Google’s YouTube Red streaming service, is a direct follow up to the original 1984 movie. From the very first episode it is clear that Cobra Kai is a labour of love, those behind the show are clearly fans of the original and understand what made it a success and how to translate that to the screen for a new generation. The premise of the show is simple, it picks up the lives of both Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence some thirty four years after their fateful encounter at the All Valley Under Eighteen Karate Tournament. The years have not been kind to Johnny who has made a mess of his life, still stuck in the past and unable to come to terms with what happened to him. For Daniel life couldn’t be better, he has an amazing wife, two kids a beautiful house and a successful business.
William Zabka’s portrayal of Johnny Lawrence is the highlight of this show; regardless of what you thought of Johnny in the original, here is a man down on his luck and only sinking further in to despair. He has a knack of coming across as though he hasn’t lived on planet Earth for the last thirty odd years, as he seems to lack any social skills.
But that is all part of his charm. The delivery of some of his funniest lines are so deadpan that he totally wins you over, you almost believe that he thinks you can cure asthma by not being a pussy. Whats really sells his character is the is the back story that is created for him that fits so perfectly into The Karate Kid history. Over the years there have been many fan theories as to how Johnny is the real Karate Kid and Daniel is the bully and in one of the episodes this is explored in full from Johnny perspective as he recounts the events of the first movie.
Ralph Macchio comfortably falls back into the role that made him famous, and watching this show and the next generation that is being introduced you are confronted with what a wonderful job he did in the original movie. Not to take away anything from the new stars but neither Xolo Mariduena and Tanner Buchanan come close to delivering a performance that would endure for thirty plus years.
I don't know if it is intentional, as popular opinion seems divided, but Daniel comes across as a bit of a jerk here. He goes out of his way to make life difficult for Johnny even to the point where he endangers the livelihood of other people with his despicable plan of getting the rent doubled in the mini mall that Johnny rents a studio in. He is constantly whining and has to be managed by his wife, a women who seems to have the patience of a saint. Even when confronted with the knowledge that his cousin attempted to burn Johnny's car, he only momentarily shows remorse or any kind of regret.
In bringing The Karate Kid formula up to date the writers have thrown out the good guy versus bad guy scenario and depicts the journey of not just Johnny and Daniel but their protégées. Both Daniel and Johnny train new protagonists who predictably end up squaring of against each other but the lines are very blurred; there is no clear good guy/bad guy you are left up to your own to decide.
Which works remarkably well, of the two Miguel has so much more to work with that you can really get behind him, his journey from wimpy kid to Karate Champion is full of great moments that make it is easy to root for him. And I am not sure if it is just modern schools or US schools in particular but high school kids today just seem so damn mean.
Unfortunately Robbie just doesn't have the same material to work with and you don't get to see the same journey that Daniel originally went on or that Miguel goes through and you are never really convinced that he is a true Championship contender. However as a season two has already been green lit perhaps he can be given a more meaty story line.
There are many great callbacks to the original movies, flashbacks and even music that really help make this series seem like a true continuation of the original. In particular is the scene in the bar that Johnny and Daniel reminiscence over old times, the one time that Daniel seems to have grown up and can speak to Johnny as an adult. By the end Johnny seems like such a well developed and rounded character and has grown enough to realise that maybe the message he is selling might not actually fit with the person he is and it will be very interesting to see what direction the writers take him in season two; will he redeem himself or will he go full Sensi Kreese?
The one thing that really disappointed me was that that the final Karate Tournament just seemed so small scale to the original movie; it neither had the choreography or the drama of the original. It all just seemed as though the production had run out of money, that the production scheduled had to be rushed and they just need to get it finished. Even Robbie's ludicrous finishing move is so rushed you are not sure that he even tried it. The original movies never had the best fight scenes and that wasn't really the point of them but in Cobra Kai they really were the weak part of the show. The only fight that actually had you fist pumping in the air was when Miguel takes on all the school bullies in the canteen.
Cobra Kai has been a ratings hit for YouTube with the two free episodes having viewing figures in the millions. Before seeing the first trailer I was skeptical on the whole thing but now I am a huge fan and can't wait for more. How about Mike Barns (Karate Kid 3) or Chozen (Karate Kid 2) or even Hillary Swank for the next season?