When it first announced that YouTube Red was going to be bringing Cobra Kai to their streaming platform, the show was met with excitement but expectations felt a little low. Then the trailers started to surface. Expectations remained the same but the focus of the show had shifted. Little did any of us know that we would be witnessing the birth of the greatest sequel in a long, long time.
Warning: If you haven't seen the entire series yet, this article contains some Cobra Kai spoilers.
From its opening at the All Valley Karate Tournament, Cobra Kai makes it very clear that this sequel will be both fun and take itself seriously. From there a whole new lore would be created around The Karate Kid. At the same time it would speak to its audience (namely all of us middle-aged folk) in a way that few sequels ever have.
As I have written about previously, the 1980s are back in a big way. Among the 40 year old set we always seemed to be waiting for that one present day 80s movie. It would bring us all back and perfectly capture that time. Yes, Ready Player One was sort of that movie but ultimately it was a 21st Century movie that was trying to evoke the films of the 1980s (many of which its director, Steven Spielberg, made!).There were various reboots of 80s properties but many, if not all, left us wanting. Cobra Kai inherits that mantle because it is 21st Century movie that is legitimately continuing one of the most revered stories from the 1980s. It is a true, dyed in the wool, 80s story in 2018.
Okay, back to that one 1980s movie. Eventually, it became apparent to this writer that that one present day 80s movie wasn't going to be happening. Even if it did happen, nothing is going to bring my generation back to those times that wowed us. Too much time has passed. We've gotten older. It is time for us to accept that we're not alone in longing for our past, but maybe we'd better create some present day memories that we can also look back on fondly in 3 decades.
Which is why Cobra Kai is the greatest sequel in years. Through the characters of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) my generation can visually see our beloved characters longing for their youths. At the same time, it continues the story with a new generation, never losing sight of the fact that the stars of Cobra Kai are the characters who made this whole story possible. Through that emotional and visual hat trick, it is not only a great sequel, but Cobra Kai has raised the bar on all sequels to follow.
Cobra Kai is the 80s sequel we've been waiting for.
The creators of Cobra Kai played the publicity game very shrewdly here. Except for announcing this show and giving us some awesome teaser trailers, the expectations for what Cobra Kai would be seemed low. In fact, in the trailers, watching Ralph Macchio utilizing his karate moves seemed downright laughable. The fact that Johnny seemed to be reviving the Cobra Kai dojo also left me scratching my head. However, in the dark recesses of my mind I held out hope. "Why would YouTube make a show that seemed like such a one trick pony?" And then I watched the first episode. It turned out to be a seamless melding of the past and the present. A return to times when you could be dangerous. At the same time, Cobra Kai was smart enough to show that our main characters, flawed though they may be, are still capable of learning something. That they HAD learned something and could pass it on. That alone is enough to make this one of the greatest sequels on par with The Godfather trilogy and Predator 2.
Cobra Kai continues the original story.
The reason why a film like Rambo leaves its fans wanting is the fact that it literally bares no resemblance to First Blood. The same could be said about The Fast and the Furious films. That appears to be a franchise that goes out of its way to not be taken seriously. As I mentioned, Cobra Kai does bring in a cast of young characters. However, Daniel and Johnny are not marginalized. They are the story. So seamlessly pulled off is Cobra Kai that about 10 minutes into the first episode I had a thought. I have seen The Karate Kid 50-100 times since I was 11. I am 44 now. And Cobra Kai, in less than 10 minutes, had completely changed the way I lived with this film for the past 33 years. Never again will I see Johnny and Daniel battle on the beach and think that their story wraps up in 120 minutes. That alone makes Cobra Kai a great sequel.
Cobra Kai is what sequels used to be.
Cobra Kai isn't a reboot. It isn't like the new Ghostbusters where we see the characters from the original films in self-referential roles. Rather, Cobra Kai is a genuine sequel. Like Halloween 2 which picked up right where the other film left off, Cobra Kai wholeheartedly keeps the story of The Karate Kid going. Bolstering all of this is that it doesn't seem to have forgotten any of the sequels. Sure, the original film came out 34 years ago, but focusing on where Daniel and Johnny are in their lives presently, we get a cinematic bridge that is on a Star Wars-like level. So many franchises come back with the same name but they are rebooted to the point of being unrecognizable. Cobra Kai did none of this. It gave itself a different name and yet continued the story we all wanted to see. Cobra Kai is one of the few of sequels that has given fans what they wanted while also bringing in a new cast of characters to take it further. It is these same precepts that probably made Creed so well received and most likely paved the way for Cobra Kai to thrive. This says nothing of the ending in which Kreese (Martin Kove), the evil sensei from the first film, returns. Now, if somehow Cobra Kai can incorporate Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) and Terry (Thomas Ian Griffin), the bad guys in the second and third films, future episodes are going to be beyond what we have already experienced.
Cobra Kai didn't forget what it is.
Making Cobra Kai work is that it hasn't forgotten what it is. Time has a way of making things that were maybe not that great be outstanding. The Karate Kid was a very good movie with an uplifting story. When I watched this film in sixth grade I wanted to be Daniel. Over time, this movie has taken on mythic proportions. So big has this film become that a lot of people my age would not watch The Karate Kid with Jaden Smith. Admittedly, I've never seen that version. This wasn't because the original was so sacrosanct. I literally never felt a need to view that new movie. Suddenly, what has happened with the original Karate Kid is that, because my generation is aging rapidly, we're clinging to the films of our youth. Yet, when we watch them it's hard at times because The Karate Kid, while having a great message, isn't a great film. Cobra Kai is VERY aware of this. It's why Daniel and Johnny have essentially switched roles. It is also why we see Daniel practicing karate and feebly kicking boba's out of people's hands. Simply put, Cobra Kai has embraced the cheese and come up smelling like Pule.
Cobra Kai stayed low key.
Another thing that worked in favor of Cobra Kai is that it kept things gloriously low key. Sure, we all knew that it would debut on YouTube Red at some point. What we didn't expect was just how thorough of a sequel it would be. It would have been very easy for this show to have maximized the hype with Tweets and random snippets of video to make us chomp at the bit. We could've been treated to numerous videos of Machhio and Zabka discussing their character arcs over the past 30 plus years. And sure, maybe some of that promo crap was out there for consumption. However, at the end of the day Cobra Kai did what The Karate Kid did before it, it let the product speak for itself. It didn't beat us over the head with mind numbing promotions. When it dropped, however, it struck all of us like a fist the skull. A punch that maybe we didn't even know we needed... but we wanted just the same.
Cobra Kai's TWIST was hiding in plain sight.
Early on as the trailers for Cobra Kai started to drop the focus was on Johnny Lawrence. Sure, Daniel would poke his head around but it was to a much lesser degree. And, when we would see Daniel, he was bragging about kicking the face of his former adversary. This seemed odd as one thing Daniel always was was humble. And when he stopped acting this way (see The Karate Kid Part III), he had Mr. Miyagi to eventually show him the error of his ways and help regain balance. So imagine watching Cobra Kai, living with Daniel as the hero all these years, and suddenly the show starts and we're feeling bad for Johnny. The guy's life (if that's what you can call it) sucks. He's living in some time-warp as he longs for the good ole days. Yet, as we watch him stumble around, usually carrying a beer, constantly watching Iron Eagle, he starts to work on us. Johnny Lawrence becomes harder to discard. We see why his life sucks now. We feel the pain of estrangement he has with his son. And it is here, that, gulp, we start rooting for Johnny as the real star of Cobra Kai. Make no mistake, Daniel is around. A LOT. But we all know he is going to reconcile with his daughter. We know that he and his disassociated son are going to find common ground. Eventually, we even know that he is probably going to take over the Cobra Kai show in some way in Cobra Kai season 2. With Johnny we're not so sure where he is headed. At times he seems like the jerk we wanted to see get a comeuppance. And at others, he is unabashedly human. And that's why we, like the new members of the Cobra Kai dojo, want to follow his character anywhere.