The cult film The Karate Kid, released in theaters in 1984 and directed by John G. Avildsen, marked the consecration of Ralph Macchio (the interpreter of Daniel LaRusso) e William Zabza (his rival Johnny Lawrence in the film) than with the sequel / spin-off series Cobra Kai, which debuted on Youtube Premium in 2018 and later on Netflix, they met again to reprise their iconic roles again.
In fact, the franchise, after four enjoyable films and a reboot unfortunately not up to the original, has returned to the glories of the saga, reversing, if you like, the general perspective and this time putting William Zabza’s Martin Lawrence in the title role, now grown, disbanded and on the brink of pavement. Following the recent announcement of a third and fourth season of Cobra Kai, we are therefore ready to analyze the first two seasons, trying to understand the strengths and the predominant themes.
Strike first, strike hard
The Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald series starts thirty-five years after the end of the first film, showing us the antagonist Johnny Lawrence unable to cope with life, relegated to a small apartment without knowing how to get by. The intuition of shifting attention to the main enemy of the first film immediately proves to be successful, because it is capable of focusing on postmodernism in a coherent and absolutely not forced way.
The good is not so idealized, but simply placed in a different context, given that by exploring Johnny Lawrence’s life in depth, the spectator himself will be able to understand the many facets of his character. The work, however, certainly does not hide its proximity to the original film, since from the beginning he will show us various clips of the first film, focusing yes on the nostalgia effect – also winking at all the people who in the 80s were children or adolescents -, albeit without abusing them and managing to address to the public of the new generations.
The characterization of the characters is very good, capable of not being based exclusively on archetypes cut with the ax, given that both Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso himself (in a very early moment represented almost as a hateful villain to then become one of the co-stars) will demonstrate a lot to themselves, and to others, to pursue their ideals in an ironclad way, but sometimes even coming to make mistakes or retrace their steps.
The first two seasons of Cobra Kai they rely heavily on the structure of the coming of age, so much through the dynamics that will see the children of the two historical rivals intertwine with each other, so much in the moments in which the two masters, belonging to two social classes at the antipodes, will return to tread the tatami to teach Karate to a large group of young people, which see among the protagonists Miguel Diaz, Samantha “Sam” LaRusso and Robby Keene, in turn capable of evolving, devoting themselves to good or evil, to pity or ruthlessness. The authors were however very skilled in focusing on a sort of gray area as regards the morality of the characters, showing us all the strengths (as well as weaknesses) of the different approaches to karate of the two sensei, without actually inclining towards the ‘one or the other.
In fact, Daniel, despite his braggart attitude towards Johnny – both unable to permanently forget the past – will prove to be however able to treasure the teachings of the late master Miyagi, so as to channel one’s inner anger to create and not to destroy. Johnny himself will immediately be able to empathize with the spectators, now no longer tied to the role of bully, but of a simple poor devil slapped by life, not for this incapable of getting up to treasure his past mistakes, to try to improve.
The force majeure of Cobra Kai it is however that of being a cross product, capable of speaking both to young people and to adults through a so easy-going but still not entirely without dramatic moments – especially at the end of the second season. Johnny’s self-improvement path, capable of making the Cobra Kai evolve in a functional way, maintaining its basic stylistic grit, but removing the most brutal and incorrect instances, will become only one of the driving forces of the series, given that with the continuation of the narration we will come into contact more and more with a choral narrative structure, where not only the protagonists, but also the numerous supporting actors, will manage to make us passionate about their stories, often linked to the concept of social retaliation, expressed through numerous and ever-changing contexts.
You can also enjoy the sequences dedicated to hand-to-hand combat, through all in all satisfying fight choreography, albeit obviously anchored to a type of staging very close to that seen in the original teen oriented films, capable of also giving a good sense of physical impact.
Obviously fans of Karate Kid will be able to easily grasp the large number of citations present, from the inevitable gesture of “put the wax, remove the wax“, up to a whole series of other goodies capable of focusing very well on the emotional side, such as in the various moments in which we will see historical characters of the franchise appear. The more serious turning point seen in the second season could then lead to further developments in the future. more mature than seen so far, effectively making the release of the third season an unmissable event for all fans of the historic saga, but also of this new reboot.