Daniel and Johnny reunite.
It’s been 30 years since the legend of The Karate Kid was born, and if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to see All Valley Tournament alums Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence reignite their rivalry, then you’re in luck with a new original series from YouTube Red, titled Cobra Kai.
After five films, and one failed animated series, it’s great to see The Karate Kid franchise getting back to its roots, by shifting the focus back onto Daniel and Johnny, decades after the famous Crane Kick altered the destiny of these two very different men.
William Zabka’s portrayal of Johnny is the standout in the first two episodes, delivering an unexpectedly comedic performance. When Johnny is first introduced, it’s clear that he’s still feeling the emotional impact of Daniel’s kick. He’s a lonely drunk, lacking all of that California-boy bravado that made him so memorable in the first movie.
Johnny is haunted by the demons of his past in the form of giant billboards all over Los Angeles, featuring LaRusso Auto Group in gold letters. Every time Johnny sees one of these billboards, his beaten-down expression says it all. He can’t stand the idea of Larusso still getting the better of him. So, what about Daniel?
Ralph Macchio easily steps back into Daniel’s shoes, but this older version of the Karate Kid is very different from the one we saw in the 80s. This confident and financially successful Daniel is unsettling to watch at first, but it keeps the series fresh and effectively shows how people can change after 30 years.
Without the guidance of Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi, Daniel has turned into a bit of a bully himself. One scene in particular forces Johnny to deal with Daniel at his auto shop. During their encounter, Daniel teases Johnny about the tournament and then tries to pull the sympathy card by offering to fix Johnny’s car for free. Once again, Johnny is humiliated, but it’s an interesting way to set up the rest of the season by asking the question… What happens when Daniel turns into the thing he used to despise in High School?
If these first few episodes are any indication, the story makes Johnny the more sympathetic character, as he starts rebuilding the infamous Cobra Kai dojo in order to train kids that are getting bullied at school. Johnny’s journey is one that I want to follow because even though the principles that Cobra Kai teaches are troublesome, with their “strike first, strike hard, no mercy” mantra… Johnny is trying to do the right thing. Even if he’s a little misguided.
Cobra Kai is available to stream on YouTube Red. For more of what’s going on in the streaming world, check out why Netflix’s The Rain is a fresh take on the post-apocalyptic genre, and why Lost in Space Season 1 is a sci-fi marvel, even though it has a villain problem.