Recently released on Netflix, the third season of “Cobra Kai,” a sequel to the film “The Karate Kid,” has taken an unfortunate turn. Unconvincing and overdramatized, season three leaned far too much on nostalgia, losing the creative charm that captivated viewers in the first and second season and separated the reboot from other sequels of our day.
Originally premiering on YouTube Red, the first two seasons of “Cobra Kai” garnered millions of fans and subscribers. “Cobra Kai” became the most-watched series on Netflix after they bought the series in August 2020. Needless to say, the expectations for season three were high.
The first two seasons of “Cobra Kai,” which picks up 34 years after the events of the All Valley Karate Tournament from the original film, features Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) living the American dream with his beautiful family and successful car dealership. His high school rival, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), is divorced, recently fired from his job as a handyman, and estranged from his only son. After a series of events lead both men to create competing dojos, they find themselves once again at odds.
What made the series so great was that it wasn’t “The Karate Kid” 2.0. Instead, unlike most remakes, which lean far too much on viewers’ nostalgia, “Cobra Kai” brought new depth and nuance to the old characters while introducing another captivating generation of karate kids with their own growing pains and complicated love triangles.
Season two of “Cobra Kai” ended with main character Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) seriously injured in a school-wide brawl between Lawrence’s dojo, “Cobra Kai,” and LaRusso’s Miyagi-Do. Robbie (Tanner Buchanan), who is the son of Lawrence (Miguel’s sensei), pushed Miguel over a balcony. The conflict arose primarily due to a love triangle between Robbie and Miguel over Sam LaRusso (Mary Mouser), who also happens to be the daughter of Robbie’s sensei, Daniel LaRusso.
Season three picks up with Miguel in a coma following his fateful fall. When he (predictably) awakes after the first episode, we learn that Miguel is paralyzed and may never walk again. Of course, he does walk again and by the end of the season he is doing backflips and karate chops as if nothing ever happened.
The plot mainly centers around the conflict between rival karate gangs that are in constant realignment. While this plot drive was intriguing and believable in the first season, and not overdone in the second, it has become exhausting by the third.
John Kreese (Martin Kove), the original bad guy from the first “The Karate Kid” movie, is back. Kreese in “Cobra Kai” is very overblown from his original character in the 1984 movie, encouraging violence and inspiring formerly disillusioned Johnny and Daniel to reopen their dojos to independently challenge John Krees’s “bad” dojo and fight for the soul of karate in the valley.
Why is Kreese such a jerk? This is explained, I guess, by some traumatizing scenes from Kreese’s military service in Vietnam. This is another unconvincing subplot of the series.
Meanwhile, Sam, Daniel’s daughter, still wants to fight but her father and mother tell her not to. Then she realizes that she apparently has PTSD from the season two brawl. She decides to swear off karate for good at the same time her father reopens Miyagi-Do and begs her to give it another try.
The final episode ends in another all-out brawl between Kreese’s karate dojo, which is better described as a karate gang, and Johnny’s and Daniel’s dojos, who decide to make an alliance against Kreese’s. The season three showdown was very similar to season two’s (which was already walking the line on silliness).
The season three fight scene is a compilation of powerful karate kicks and punches to the face that should send a regular person straight to the hospital. Instead, the kids get up unscathed after every blow and jump right back into the ridiculous karate battle.
Making everything so much worse was the disastrously underwhelming appearance of Alli Mills (Elizabeth Shue), the All-American blonde sweetheart and love interest of the original film. With Daniel married and Johnny in a relationship with Miguel’s mother, Shue’s appearance served no purpose but nostalgia. She did nothing to propel the plot or enhance the other characters. Instead, for an entire episode, we listen to Daniel and Johnny recount what they have been up to in season 1 and 2 and she retells stories from the original movie to Daniel’s wife.
“Cobra Kai” was one of the only modern remakes that treated its audience with enough respect not to force-feed them old tropes, instead creating new and creative plot lines enhanced by ’80s nostalgia. Unfortunately, the way Alli was clumsily inserted into the season with no real plan or purpose was a huge letdown for such a potentially big reunion.
Overall, the third season couldn’t decide on a plot or a point. It felt disjointed and unoriginal, as if the writers simply rehashed the first two seasons, threw in Elizabeth Shue, and expected all of us to fawn over it.
What made the original 1984 “Karate Kid” so special was it was believable and relatable. A skinny new kid from the East Coast is bullied by mean, rich kids at his new high school who are bigger and stronger.
It feels real when Daniel, frustrated with his new living situation and high school bullies who had pushed him and his bike down a hill, throws his bike into a dumpster, punches the wall, and begs his mom for them to go home. A helpless Daniel can’t control his emotions in a very raw way, encapsulating teenage angst like only an ’80s movie can.
The fatherless boy is taken under the wing of Mr. Miyagi, who teaches him the value of discipline, how to defend himself, and how to be a man.
The original karate kid is a relatable character, and so were the new “Cobra Kai” characters, such as Miguel, Robbie, Sam, and Hawk. By turning the old and new characters on their heads we realize there is a little bit of the original Johnny and Daniel in everyone. In other words, there is good and bad in all of us.
It was refreshing in the first season and worked in the second season, but unfortunately the third season has become overpowered by clumsy plotlines, unbelievable stunts, and an insulting lean on nostalgia, losing the charm of the original movie and the unexpected creativity of the first two seasons that “Cobra Kai” captured.
“Cobra Kai” season one and two had that rare ability to draw the attention and appeal of both parents and kids. Fortunately, season three’s awesome ’80s soundtrack is one redeeming qualitycarried over from the previous seasons. While I was disappointed with the third “Cobra Kai” season, I am still willing to give the franchise another chance and watch a fourth season only because the first two were just that good.