Adapt or die is a common saying. The Karate Kid movie franchise did just this. They adapted. On May 2, 2018, they released the sequel and began telling the story of what happened 34 years after the original movie. This sequel called Cobra Kai tells what happened to the characters but this time from the perspective of the villain from the original series, Johnny Lawrence.
You may have seen the original Karate Kid and its two sequels. It is the story of Daniel LaRusso played by Ralph Macchio. Daniel was a wimpy kid who was bullied by kids at school. He meets Mr. Miyagi- a karate master who believes that “karate is for defense only.” He teaches Daniel how to defend himself and builds his confidence. Johnny Lawrence is a member of a karate dojo called Cobra Kai. The sensais at Cobra Kai teach their members to “Strike Hard, Strike Fast, No Mercy.” When Daniel becomes interested in Johnny’s girlfriend, Alli, Johnny and his friends from Cobra Kai bully Daniel. Mr. Miyagi helps Daniel train and become the All Valley champion, defeating Johnny. It is a classic underdog story. It became the epic of the 1980s generation.
Netflix acquired Cobra Kai in 2020, and the series became a sensation of our generation. I particularly liked watching the series with my dad. The series frequently inserts classic Karate Kid Easter eggs. My dad loved pointing these hidden references out to me. He chuckled when LaRusso began training Robbie. Robbie is Johnny’s son, but he is angry at his father, so he trains with Daniel to annoy his father. La Russo owns a car dealership. He makes Robbie wax the cars. Dad laughed because he knew that Daniel would tell Robbie “show me wax the car” and throw a punch. The waxing of the car is part of Miyagi’s style of training- teaching your muscles how to fight by doing common chores.
This series appealed to older generations bringing back memories from when they grew up. People like my Dad would enjoy season 3 because the series had meaningful flashbacks to the original show. But, Cobra Kai is an adaptation designed to appeal to our generation as well. It tackles common subjects like bullying and being politically correct. It also shows the story from another perspective. Here, we see Johnny as a victim too. We sympathize with him. We even, at times, see Danial in a bad light and Johnny as the hero. Will these two ever get on the same page? Can they heal the rifts between them? Can they teach their students to overcome the differences that they never could?
It was interesting to see how Johnny was the rich kid with all the power in high school. Daniel was the poor kid who was bullied. Today, Daniel is successful. He has a wife and two kids. He owns a car dealership. Johnny, on the other hand, is a deadbeat dad. He is a drunk and is struggling to pay rent. So, Johnny decides to reopen Cobra Kai and teach karate. He sees a boy, Miguel Diaz, being bullied by classmates, and he offers to train Miguel. Meanwhile, Johnny’s son, Robbie, seeks out Daniel for karate training and Daniel opens Miyagi-do Karate. The rivalry between the two begins anew. Yet, this time something’s different. They realize they have a lot in common and care more about the kids than their petty rivalry.
I enjoyed the character development of all of the students. There is Hawk, a boy with a deformed lip who transforms himself through karate into a tough guy with spiked hair and a hawk tattoo on his back.
There is Demetri, a nerd who feels upset that Hawk is no longer his friend and trains to learn self-defense. There are Tory and Sam, who are the two girls who are each other’s arch-rivals.
“Cobra never dies” is the dojos mantra, and this remake proves that it still lives on. This series allows these social outcasts a place to fit in and teaches them self-confidence. The issue arises about how far they should go. Should karate be for defense only- a way to find balance in your life? Or should you become so strong that no one can hurt you- should you show no mercy? Can these two different philosophies make peace with one another? You have to watch to find out.