Starting as a bit of a joke (“what would the Karate Kid movies be like from the bad guy’s perspective?”) Cobra Kai has transformed into a wildly entertaining and engaging show, with a new life on Netflix. Daniel Rutledge faces off against the show’s fourth season.
Rejoice: The best ’80s reboot series is triumphantly crane kicking back onto our screens. Season four continues the show’s unlikely winning streak, upping the ante by climaxing with the fourth ever All Valley Karate Tournament depicted in the Miyagi-verse—there were two in the original trilogy of movies before another in season one of Cobra Kai. If you’ve been a fan of this show so far you’re not going to be disappointed with the new episodes as they’re more of the same sweet, sweet shit.
Where Cobra Kai towers over those other efforts is in its mastery of tone and just plain old good writing. It strikes a brilliant balance in paying homage to the original films but modernises them in ways that work. It’s very self-aware but doesn’t stupidly wink at the audience—well, not too much anyway.
Cobra Kai delivers loads of laughs but also enough drama to get you wound up in what you’re watching and rooting for the characters. It’s super cheesy, but it manages some meaningful commentary on class and successfully creates empathy for almost every single character in the franchise, no matter how much of an asshole bully they may seem. And although the dialogue scripting is often predictable, the narrative is not. The good guys are kinda bad and the bad guys are kinda good and there’s now such a great breadth of characters it’s fairly unclear who is going to win the season four All Valley tournament until very close to the end.
This whole series started as a joke about what the Karate Kid movies were like from the bad guy’s perspective, but through sheer writing skill it’s been transformed into a wildly entertaining and engaging show, even this far in.
Season three ended with Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence finally joining forces, combining their respective Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang dojos to overcome the increasingly nasty Cobra Kai, which is once again being managed by the malevolent John Kreese. Season three also ended by reintroducing Terry Silver, one of the bad guys in 1989’s The Karate Kid Part III—the most batshit entry in this franchise so far. His storyline was wildly convoluted and bizarre in that film, working its way up to a weirdly anticlimactic ‘gotcha’ prank that really makes you wonder what the writers were up to.
Silver acknowledges that weirdness in the first episode of Cobra Kai‘s fourth season, saying: “Back in the ’80s, I was so hopped up on cocaine and revenge I spent months terrorising a teenager over a high school karate tournament. It sounds insane just talking about it!” Yeah man, it was pretty insane. But I’m very here for you getting all wound up into weird shit with teens around that exact same tournament in this show. Hell yeah!
Silver is a great villain, joining forces with Kreese just as LaRusso teams up with Lawrence. The central theme of two forces coming together is carried into the fighting as well as now many of the combatants of all three primary dojos have studied the contrasting styles of Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do and combine them to try and beat their adversaries.
One of this season’s many dope nods to ’80s action movies is the central theme being broken down to its most basic, bone-headed form as the lyrics of a rocking training montage. So of course as we watch our characters prepare for the tournament, we hear chunky electric guitar riffs as someone repeatedly sings: “Two heads are better than one!”
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Speaking of two contrasting styles, season four puts the pedal to the metal with its classic American portrayal of hilariously surface level Far Eastern harmony and balance shit, but still obviously portrays violence as always solving everything. There’s some lip service about trying to avoid fights and always being defensive, but then getting into fights to defend your honour as rock music plays is also always sweet and generally doesn’t result in negative consequences.
The peaceful Japanese wisdom stuff is contrasted with a caricature of old school American masculinity—y’know, constant beer drinking, crazy muscle cars, eating meat on meat because veggies are for sissies. Just a Hulk Hogan approach to life because America rules. Some of the jokes around that sort of stuff is probably where the show is at its weakest as it’s just so bleeding obvious, but generally I find it endearing anyway.
The All Valley tournament is spread across the last two episodes and is a hell of a lot of fun. This series is no Undisputed or Ip Man of course and the actual combat choreography isn’t going to blow any minds, but the narrative payoffs and how they’re put together in combat is mint.
There’s plenty of solid development of the relationships this season, too. I can’t say much about LaRusso and Lawrence, but be prepared for sweet satisfaction and sweet frustration in equal parts with that pair. Kreese and Silver’s relationship unfurls well, too, after all the Vietnam War backstory we got in season three. It’s a good season for Tory as her rivalry with Sam evolves too, and new kids Devon and Kenny are cool, but mostly have groundwork laid for future seasons.
Of course I’m not going to spoil that here, but wow, it’s impressive how many of the original actors keep getting involved. William Zabka, the actor who plays Lawrence, says season five is maybe his favourite yet because it is “even more!” Whatever it’s more of, I’m down.
I can’t wait for season five and now we’re this deep, after this many twists, I’m keen to rewatch this whole thing so it’s all fresh again this time next year. I love the little 30-minute episodes, they’re so easy to consume and it’s such a delightful show to binge. I’m chuffed with having just done so with season four. Now I’m going to spend the summer thinking about how I can combine the wisdom of Miyagi-do, the kick-arse spirit of Eagle Fang and the merciless aggression of Cobra Kai in my own life to conquer 2022. If I could just work out what they cryptically mean by two heads mysteriously being better than one…