Cobra Kai Strikes Hard With No Mercy

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Connor Smith

“Cobra Kai” is a show that picks up with middle aged Johnny Lawrence who was the antagonist for the first movie. His defeat by Daniel LaRusso has cascaded his life downhill resulting in him being an alcoholic, broken and shattered dreams that hasn’t worked up to his potential.

Connor Smith, Reporter

(No Spoilers)

Remember the “The Karate Kid” from the 1980’s? Remember how it was about a scrappy underdog kid named Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) who got his butt kicked by a jerk karate student named Johnny Lawrence  (William Zabka)? Who then gets trained by a wise old veteran sensi, who teaches Daniel the art of karate and cleaning. To finally use that skill to kick the crap out of Lawrence in the final and come out victorious. It’s the classic underdog story that is remembered today.  Even spawning two more sequels and a mediocre reboot that no one really remembers. But beyond that mist we got something extraordinary and that is “Cobra Kai.”         

“Cobra Kai” is a show that picks up with middle aged Johnny Lawrence who was the antagonist for the first movie. His defeat by Daniel LaRusso has cascaded his life downhill resulting in him being an alcoholic, broken and shattered dreams that hasn’t worked up to his potential. Daniel however is at the peak of his life using his celebrity status in the valley. He runs a car dealership, with a beautiful wife, kids and a big fancy house. 

After one night of feeling sorry for himself, a kid named Miguel gets beaten up by a bunch of bullies that Johnny Lawrence busts out some old karate and gives the bullies what they deserve. This short confrontation makes Miguel eager to learn how to do karate. But Johnny Lawrence is reluctant until he meets Daniel once again, sparking their rivalry once more.  Now Johnny finds himself opening a dojo using the lessons that were drilled in him and brings back Cobra Kai. Strike first, strike hard, no mercy. And despite him not knowing what he’s doing, he somehow finds a way to teach Miguel how to fight, which prompts others to come forward, whether that be nerds, rash victims of society, people tired of the constant crap in their lives, or lost people looking for a purpose. And it comes to a point where Johnny Lawrence has a class of social outcasts ready to fight back.   

This catches the attention of Daniel who remembers how dangerous Cobra Kai can be and opens up his own dojo that focuses more on defense and peace. And the rest of the show is all about their back-and-forth rivalry as they fight each other. Only for the final to head up in what better else than the all-valley tournament. That’s where I will end it off with the sum up to avoid any spoilers. You’re Welcome.

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to this show. But for the sake of everyone’s attention span in this article I’ll try to be short. “Cobra Kai” is a show that manages to pull all of the stops and basically does everything virtually right. The characters are probably the biggest pro about all this. The story clearly focuses on Johnny and Daniel who were pretty much defined by their archetypes back in the first movie with Johnny being the pushover bully and Daniel as the scrappy underdog. Now we get to actually see a new side of them with the roles kind of reversed with Johnny being the underdog and Daniel as the sort of oppressor.

The writing in this is incredible, from little things to big things it knows how to deal with conflict and circumstances and really use the full cast of characters to their full potential. ”

The show really knows how to explore and expands on the past characters. Even creating new ones that are equally in depth and interesting. Like Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña), a new kid on the block who looks up to Johnny as a hero and worships him. He’s eager to please and will obey instructions without hesitation. As time goes on, he starts to develop more self confidence and questions his own mentor’s judgment even looking to him as a father figure only to find Johnny can’t satisfy that need. Or Eli Moskowitz (Jacob Bertrand), a weak shy nerd who gets beaten up a lot who slowly builds up confidence becoming more ruthless and brash. Only for it to go to his head and turn him into the thing he used to hate, a bully. I guess that’s not far from reality when you think about it. Or my favorite Tury Nichols (Peyton List), a hardened troubled kid who’s shown steering trouble with everyone around her. She acts like this because of her harsh environment. I mean she even has to take many crappy jobs to pay for her family and her mother’s medical bills while dealing with the dramas of school and her jerk of a landlord. Dang and I thought I had it hard with dealing with the school bathrooms always being closed.

The point is every character feels fleshed out with no one 100 percent good or bad. Everyone has a reason for who they are and what they do and whoever you support is really up to your beliefs and opinions.   

The fact that the show has some of the original cast is all an amazing feat with people like (William Zabka) bringing a quiet, reserved and honest performance that sometimes shows anger, resentment, jealousy, self pity, and grim reflection of his past failures. He’s a man who’s swallowed by his own failures of a wasted life and broken dreams and desperately trying to cling onto the glory days. However, gradually you’ll get to see moments of his past self that come to light and spark something new into Johnny, which turns into a fire as he finally finds something to fight for. It’s genuinely satisfying to see him grow and root for him.

Ralph Macchio is an actor who’s had a pretty high yielding career back in the day after his highpoint in the first “Karate Kid.” with a lot of other acting gigs after the third “Karate Kid” movie. Somehow he manages to just slide into the role like he’s never been away from it. After 30 years, he still pulls off the same cockyness, feel and even down to the same mannerisms.  You can tell he’s happy to be playing his most classic role and he brings that enthusiasm into his performance and even makes it better. 

The writing in this is incredible, from little things to big things it knows how to deal with conflict and circumstances and really use the full cast of characters to their full potential. The themes of this show really bring light to my dark cold heart. The battle of the two dojos is a perfect example. Cobra Kai is the teachings and result of an unjust cruel world. That requires ideals of aggression, hardship, discipline, adversity, and bravata to survive it. It’s the idea that the only way to win it is for you to strike back hard. But some can take this too far to the point of blind anger and bullying.

Miyagi Do relies on the more passive way of teaching rather than offense they focus on defense with the idea of balance, restraint, levity and compassion. This can sometimes leave you more vulnerable and complacent over your actions and lack of progression.  What I love about all this is the fact that neither one is coherently right or wrong. There are pros and cons to each dojo which hints on the fact that maybe a compromise is in order.   

The show does lean onto nostalgia quite a bit. They manage to use callbacks and references to actually improve the story and past events. “Cobra Kai” never uses it as a crutch to support a weak story or the butt of a lame joke. Take the moment where Daniel LaRusso in the first “Karate Kid” movie as he is forced to clean and do chores by his sensei to teach him the basics of fighting stances. But in “Cobra Kai,” Johnny is making Miguel wash the windows. And Miguel asks Johnny if there is any particular way he wants him to wash the window. Only for Johnny to tell him, “Nah I dont give a **….”. It’s a clever and good use of referencing something from the past movie. That’s both hilarious, and enforces the idea that Daniel and Johnny’s methods of teaching are very different. You can tell the writers respect and follow up the source material.  

To be honest, this show has no right to be this good, they could have easily rehashed the same ideas only to turn them into lazy, lame and cringe worthy spectatales. Instead, the show takes the characters and story in a different direction that stays true to the source material while still having the gall to try new things and explore new interesting directions.  

The point is if you like smart, subversive, and witty humor in writing with interesting characters and performances that are a delight to watch, then go down to Netflix and watch it yourself. I’m not sponsored by Netflix or anything…. But if Netflix is reading this, give me a call.