Loyal fans of the original 1984 “The Karate Kid” may not be too eager about the spin-off “CobraKai” at first, but it might grow on you. “Cobra Kai” is interesting enough to watch, but certainly doesn’t meet any super high standards.
In the first “Karate Kid” movie, Cobra Kai’s merciless champion Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) is defeated by honorable Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) in the annual All Valley Karate tournament after a chain of previous feuds.
“Cobra Kai” takes place decades after the events in “The Karate Kid” through the perspective of Johnny Lawrence. LaRusso now owns a successful car dealership, while Lawrence struggles with the demons of his past — mostly while drunk. Tired of living in the shadow of Daniel LaRusso’s success, Johnny decides to revive the Cobra Kai dojo after he hits rock bottom — but in the process, he also revives their rivalry.
Originally a Youtube Red web series, “Cobra Kai” was brought to Netflix in late August of this year. The action-packed martial arts show reached number six in Netflix’s Top 10 on Sept. 29.
The show is watchable, but it’s nothing out of the park. It tries to mimic the comedic tone of the ‘80s, but the Classic Rock soundtrack is really the only successful ‘80s approach. The series had a very choppy comedic atmosphere – it was funny at times, but I couldn’t tell if they were trying to make dialogue funny or if it was just naturally cheesy. I found myself laughing at the cringe more than the jokes.
The comedy may not be the best, but the plot is very dynamic. “Cobra Kai” offers a fresh perspective of the events in the original 1984 movie. The Cobra Kai dojo was shown as brutal and unfair in the film, but in the series –although still brutal– Johnny Lawrence turns a new leaf and rebirths the Cobra Kai dojo with new values. Johnny’s Cobra Kai instructor in the film, Sensei Kreese (Martin Kove), teaches Johnny to be merciless and unfair. The new Cobra Kai veers away from brute mercilessness, but still teaches the teenage pupils to be “badass.”
Sensei Lawrence wants to teach his students in a more honorable way than he was taught, but unintentionally whips a bunch of nerds into an army of bullies.
There are many interesting and unexpected character arcs that occur. Johnny is a hopeless drunk at first, but learns a lot from his first pupil, Miguel Dias. Miguel is initially bullied and beat up pretty often, but gains the confidence and skill to defend himself at the Cobra Kai Dojo. Miguel and a few others who join Cobra Kai, begin to take Johnny’s lessons too literally and end up becoming bullies themselves.
The series reminds me of another martial arts show, Disney XD’s Kickin’ It (2011-2015). “Kickin’ It” also follows a group of high school teens who practice karate and feud against an opposing dojo, so if you remember that show and liked it, you may like “Cobra Kai” too.
“Cobra Kai” displays an overall theme of balance in life, similar to the original movie. Relationship and attitude are also key aspects of the series. Johnny has a tricky relationship with his teenage son, Robby, who hates him and ends up learning karate from Johnny’s arch enemy, LaRusso.
It was pretty cool to see many parallels between the show and the movie. I recommend watching at least the first “Karate Kid” before watching the series. “Cobra Kai” did make me laugh sometimes, but most of the dialogue could be cringey for older teens. Spinnaker rates Cobra Kai 3.5/5 sails.
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