[Attention: This review contains spoilers.]
I just spent this last weekend with my wife binge watching Netflix’s latest hit series, ‘Cobra Kai’.
As a person who grew up in the 1980s, this show brought back a lot of fond, and some not so great memories from my childhood.
This series stays true to the original ‘Karate Kid’ movie franchise, and even uses footage from those films. Some of the scenes and dialogue are identical and reminiscent of the original franchise to pay homage to the series’ roots.
If a person has never seen those iconic 80s movies, this series will still be easy to follow, as it gives many flashback scenarios to provide the audience with the context of the current predicaments.
For those who are familiar with the Karate Kid films, there will be many recognizable faces. The series utilizes the original actors to depict the characters that they once portrayed. There are several who return to reprise their roles.
Cobra Kai is the story of a washed up former Karate champion, Johnny, who still dwells on the past. He reopens his old Karate dojo that he used to train in during his youth. He initially opens the dojo to help a teenager who is relentlessly tormented by bullies. His first group of students are all bullied as well, but they turn the tide and become the antagonists themselves.
The series also follows Johnny’s high school rival, Daniel, who has gained great success since their final confrontation during their youth. Daniel had been bullied by Johnny when they were teenagers, and when they meet again after so many decades that animosity still lingers between them.
There are times throughout the series and in the original film franchise where it appears that Daniel may actually be the antagonist. Both main characters tell versions of the same stories from their own perspectives, which makes this theory seem viable.
Ali, who was a love interest of both characters back in high school in the original film, has a reunion with the two alpha males in the series and tries to set them both straight. She explains that there were three sides to their stories. “There’s your side,” she says, as she points to Johnny. “There’s your side,” she adds, gesturing in Daniel’s direction. “And there’s the truth.” The truth that she refers to is that they are both more alike than either want to admit.
Bullying and teenage angst appear to be the focal points in this hard hitting drama. While the two former rivals have competing Karate Schools, their kids become entangled in the middle of the conflicts.
Cobra Kai is a modern day version of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s famous feud combined with the Romeo and Juliet forbidden romance. Although the latter dynamic changes throughout the series, the feuding parties remain, with Cobra Kai using it’s ruthless and devious tactics to dominate over everyone else.
The Cobra Kai dojo becomes even more merciless with the return of Sensei Kreese, who happened to be the original founder of the school decades earlier and Johnny’s former Karate teacher. The school’s motto: “Strike first, strike hard, no mercy” becomes more relevant with Kreese back in control of the unhinged youth.
The series attempts to keep the viewers connected to the past, particularly the 1980s, through the nostalgic flashbacks and the retro soundtrack from the best decade of music ever.
This is especially brought to light through Johnny, who by all appearances seems to still be living his life in that simpler decade. He even goes so far as to never own or even use a computer or smartphone nor tries to understand the internet until they are introduced to him by his student.
The modern era connected to a nostalgic aura combined with intense action and dramatic tension gives Cobra Kai a powerful punch.