5 Lessons From 'Cobra Kai' About Reviving Old Properties
Why haven't you been watching Cobra Kai? If you have been watching it, you're off the hook for now, but do 20 pushups on your knuckles, so you don't get too cocky. Actually, statistically speaking, you probably have been watching the Karate Kid follow-up since, according to Netflix, the show has been a massive hit and watched by over 73 million households because it's basically a MasterClass on how to bring old and dead franchises into the modern era ...
It's Accessible to New Fans Because It's a Sequel, a Reboot, AND a Remake
It's hard to imagine a worse combination of three things that a piece of filmmaking could be than "sequel, reboot, and remake." The only thing that maybe comes close is "porno, your grandma, and Rob Schneider" but at least that would be somewhat original instead of a confusing proof of the death of creativity in Hollywood. But in an ironic twist, Cobra Kai being a sequel/reboot/remake (a ... sebooke?) bizarrely makes it feel fresh and easier to follow for people new to the Karate Kid franchise.
The sequel part is obvious. The show is set more than three decades after the original franchise's events, but at the same time, it effectively reboots it, changing a few things here and there. Like, say, ignoring the events of the 1989 Karate Kid cartoon where Daniel and Mr. Miyagi battle a Soviet hockey team using a magic shrine to prove the superiority of communism. But it also does a few things right.
Lest we forget, in the first Karate Kid, Johnny Lawrence gave the first-place trophy to Daniel and said, "You're alright, LaRusso." This symbolized him growing up and rejecting the teachings of Sensei "Sweep the Leg" Kreese. In Cobra Kai, though, that doesn't seem to have stuck. Instead, the show opens on an angry, bitter Johnny, stewing in resentment towards Daniel for a better part of his life. It allows the show to tell its own, original story that's both accessible and relatable AF because all of us are angry about at least one bullshit thing that happened to us in high school. And if you aren't, drop by the comment section and tell us exactly how oral sex from a unicorn feels like and what do you do about the horn during. Do you put a cork on it or...?
The point is, Cobra Kai is full of (basically) original characters that are fleshed out anew on the show so that you can enjoy it without having to know the Karate Kid movies. Although, if you have seen the show, you do actually know them. Let us explain.
The first movie was about a handyman who teaches karate to a bullied kid that recently moved to California. The same thing happens in CK, only here, the handyman is a drunken Johnny, and the kid is Miguel. The second film had strong father-son themes regarding the sensei character, including a scene of disownment. The same things happen to Johnny in Cobra Kai. Karate Kid III focused on the dangers of bad teachers, which is the point of the show's second and third seasons. Hell, the plot of The Next Karate Kid was about a kid having to overcome their anger issues brought on by family shit through karate, which is the entire arc of Johnny's son Robby on CK.
Yeah, just like that idiot Daniel had no idea that he was learning karate by painting fences and waxing cars, so does Cobra Kai trick us idiots into learning more about Karate Kid I – IV by remaking them. That's what makes the show so accessible to new fans. It doesn't come with any homework.
subtitle]The Show Makes You Want to Revisit the Original Franchise
If you were introduced to the Karate Kid universe through Cobra Kai, watching the original movies might be fun for you, but it won't be like this big thing that gives you a whole new appreciation for these characters. And why would you even ask for that? You already got your gift with a show that wax-on/wax-offs the knowledge of the entire KK franchise into your brain. See that big ball of flaming gas in the middle of our Solar System? Do you share the same name? No? We guess that means the world doesn't revolve around you. The ability to enjoy The Karate Kid anew is reserved for us long-time fans of these movies.
If you grew up on The Karate Kid, you'll never look at it the same way again after Cobra Kai. Objectively speaking, Johnny and Kreese are kind of generic '80s villains because, well, that movie wasn't about them, so there wasn't that much time to dive into their backstories and motivations. But Cobra Kai has that time. It has time to tell us, through flashbacks, about Johnny's childhood growing up rich but isolated, unsure of himself, and just trying to find his people and a father figure. It's kind of fascinating because it shows us just how similar he and Daniel really are. It didn't come up much in the movie, but with Cobra Kai, you get that Johnny is what Daniel so easily could have become, which is always the mark of a great villain. All that really separates them is the fact that Johnny had a crappy teacher.
Speaking of Kreese, he was possibly the silliest part of the original movie. You can sort of get why Johnny and his friends were so villainous. They're teens, and teens are dumb because their brains are too juiced up on hormones to think clearly or want to listen to non-terrible music or remind them to get off our goddamn lawns. Kreese doesn't have that excuse. Kreese was a strip-mall karate teacher who thought he was fighting a war. He had all the subtlety of a Dilbert strip where the asshole boss is dressed like the devil. Cobra Kai fixed that. You want to know why Kreese acts like he is fighting a war? Because, in his broken mind, he is.
In Season 3, we learn that Kreese's mother committed suicide, his girlfriend died when he was in Vietnam, and he and his friends were forced to fight each other to the death in a Vietnam POW camp. The worst part is, they were only captured because Kreese tried to save his friend's life. He was trying to be a good person, and it resulted in one of the worst things that happened in his entire life. Poor bastard never had a chance for a non-villainous life after something like that. You want to see more of that character, so you go back to the first Karate Kid, and you enjoy it in a completely different way. That's how you resurrect a goddam franchise.
Cobra Kai Respects the Past but Doesn't Rehash It
The show may use the Karate Kid movies as a foundation, but a foundation alone isn't enough. You need new stuff above it. Like ... walls. To stop people from watching you go to the bathroom...? Okay, so we may suck at metaphors but what we're trying to say is that Cobra Kai realizes that it's supposed to be a continuation of the original story, not its rehash. So while it does star Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence, they are not the heart of the show. The new generation of karate students is.
Xolo Mariduena's Miguel, Tanner Buchanan's Robby Keene, Mary Mouser as Daniel's daughter Samantha, Jacob Bertrand's "Hawk" -- they are what Cobra Kai really focuses on. It may have them replay scenes from the original movies now and then, but it always puts a new spin on them. For example, Samantha is great at karate and kicking ass, but because she is a girl, she's initially seen as weird instead of badass. That's a fantastic commentary and something that we haven't really seen much of before, even in The Next Karate Kid, which had an actual female lead.
"Hawk," on the other hand, was a severely bullied kid who, through karate, himself became a full-on bully. Cobra Kai wasn't the first show to have a story like that (Hey Arnold! beat them to it), and The Karate Kid III might've had traces of it, but the Netflix show dedicated so much more time towards it because it knows that its story should focus on the KIDS, not the adults. There's one scene that encapsulates that beautifully.
During the third season episode, "The Good, The Bad, and the Badass," the All-Valley Karate Tournament is about to get canceled, and both Daniel and Johnny try to intervene by addressing the city council. Daniel is all put-together and has plenty of notes while Johnny looks hangover and plans to wing it, each thinking that they'll be the big savior. It's Lawrence vs. LaRusso all over again! Which one will emerge the winner this time?
Neither. They both shit the bed, but then their students come up to the mic. They make an impassioned case for not canceling the tournament and end up saving the day because this is their show and scenes like this keep reminding us of it.
Cobra Kai Knows Exactly What Kind of Show It Is
There's a Season 3 episode that tells you everything you need to know about the world of Cobra Kai.
It doesn't matter why but in "King Cobra," the landlord of the karate dojo that Kreese is renting tries to evict him. He brings his two giant nephews with brass-knuckles with him, and, of course, Kreese instantly uses their faces to turn his mats into a Jackson Pollock painting. Here's the thing about that. There was absolutely no reason for the landlord to try and threaten Kreese. He had a signed ironclad contract that allowed him to kick out any tenant he wanted whenever he wanted. He easily could have gotten law enforcement involved, and Kreese would have to sweep his tail between his legs because, and this is where things get a little technical, you can't punch your way out of a legal contract. Trust us, if you could, internet providers would exclusively hire one-eyed, scarred bruisers nicknamed "The Dagger" as sales representatives.
But that's the universe that Cobra Kai is set in. It's a world where no one ever seems to call the cops and where people's initial reaction to a brutal home invasion is, "So how do we retaliate?" YOU FUCKING DON'T. Holy shit. You're car salesmen! The perps' blood is on the ceiling. Grab a bucket, go to the cops, and have them arrested. But no one ever does because that's not what you do in martial art movies/shows. And Cobra Kai knows that it's a martial art show, and it embraces it.
Awfully confident nobody in the house owns a gun.
Cobra Kai exists in its own insane world because it took one look at Karate Kid and realized that the best parts of it were the training and the fights, and it decided to just go hog-wild on those things. That's why the fights are now bigger, faster, superbly choreographed, and about as realistic as the chances of Rob Schneider calling your grandma back after their video shoot. In Season 1, Cobra Kai actually comes up with their own version of the crane kick, which was literally a kick using both legs that you do from a handstand position, and which someone obviously came up at night while fighting a deadline.
It's silly, but Cobra Kai has been clear from the start about what kind of world it's building, and by the time you get to "What if kick but TWO at same time?!" you've gotten used to it enough to think that it actually looked kind of cool.
It Doesn't Take Itself Too Seriously
Anyone who's ever made a post-original trilogy Star Wars movie looks like they'd roll their eyes at you and scoff if you referred to the franchise as "samurai virgins in space." For whatever reason, the prevailing wisdom is that when you reboot (or sebooke) a franchise for the modern age, you need to be 100% serious about it. On the other hand, Cobra Kai saw that fans were joking about Daniel actually being a bully in the first film and went, "Screw it, let's put that in an episode," and then they shot a scene where Johnny summarizes the first movie from his POV.
The show makes it perfectly clear that Johnny is full of shit and that he 100% was the bad guy, but they still felt comfortable enough with their source material to make the "Daniel was the real bully" joke. There are a few more examples of Cobra Kai taking the piss out of The Karate Kid. Remember Mr. Miyagi's magic hand-healing technique that took away Daniel's pain during the tournament in the first movie? They spoof that on the show, making it look like Daniel is about to do the same thing before he calls for a medic. It was goofy but it worked.
Even the famous Miyagi training method gets roasted when Daniel trains Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo), the most neurotic kid on the planet who immediately gets that the painting/waxing thing is about muscle memory but still fails miserably when he tries to put it into practice. It worked for other kids on the show, but when Demetri does it, you actually start to realize that, wait, learning karate by doing chores is super silly.
But it's okay because none of Cobra Kai's jabs feel mean. You constantly get reminders that the show deeply understands The Karate Kid and what it's about, so when it pokes fun at it, it feels like it's coming from a place of love. Because you don't love something despite its faults. You love it for its faults. And fans can tell when people behind a show actually care for it. The ones behind Cobra Kai do, so millions of people watch it. Simple as that.
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Top image: Netflix