Anthony looks at how the Cobra Kai and former bad boy Johnny are sweeping the competition away.
Set 34 years after The Karate Kid movie, Cobra Kai brings the original characters Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence back to life.
2020 is a bully – it shows no mercy. Thankfully, Cobra Kai is here to bring some joy to these challenging times. For those who haven’t seen it yet (spoilers ahead), the series is warm-hearted, charming, and a hella lot of fun. You’ll find plenty of nostalgia and cheese to give it a great 80s vibe, too.
The best thing about watching Cobra Kai is Johnny Lawrence. Since his stunning loss to LaRusso way back in 1984, the poor guy has found it hard to pick himself off the mat. Not only is he living a ramshackle life, but he’s also a drunk, divorced dad with a teenage son who cannot stand him. To his disgust, his old foe Daniel is now a wealthy luxury car salesman with a happy family. Every time Johnny sees his old nemesis in those hokey TV ads – where Daniel karate chops car prices in half – it feels like another kick to the face.
Cobra Kai Never Dies
The story kicks in when Johnny decides to bring Cobra Kai’s “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy” creed into the 21st Century. It’s safe to say things don’t go smoothly. Despite his woes and our sympathy for him, we laugh at his ineptitude and ignorance. Johnny’s still a boorish guy stuck mentally and emotionally in the 80s.
First off, his cocky and regressive worldview is laid bare by his recruits – a sorry bunch of nerds and losers. It’s fun watching Johnny’s eye-rolling at woke gestures, despite protégé Miguel schooling him on political correctness. We also squirm and laugh as he mocks his students, demanding that Miguel and the rest of his dojo “man up”, even the girls. Even worse, Johnny ridicules Eli’s claim that he might have autism. Showing no awareness or sensitivity, he tells him he doesn’t know what that is but “you need to get off it pronto”. It’s probably the nicest thing he says to Eli. In short, Johnny hasn’t a clue, but we get a kick out of watching him blunder through life.
Nature Vs Nurture
For all its fun and jokes, there’s a serious message behind the show – the problem of bullying. Under the brutal control of John Kreese in the 80s, the Cobra Kai dojo was nothing but a bunch of macho bullies. Although, we see via flashbacks that Johnny was once a kind and caring boy who was ridiculed by his stepfather even before Kreese stepped into his life.
The backstory shows that sometimes nurture beats nature when we consider all the negative influences in Johnny’s life, including his nasty upbringing, aggressive teachings, and bad mentoring. It comes as no surprise he was a bully boy.
So, decades on, is Johnny about to turn his disciples into new tyrants with his hardcore approach to life? At first, it seems so, but he has an awakening that sets him on his path to becoming a better man and teacher. Looking around his dojo, he sees underdogs, geeks, and snowflakes. The kids are not bullies; they are boys and girls who get picked on. As an alpha-male, it’s nice to watch Johnny soften and bond with his students as he tries in his unique way to toughen them up. Interestingly, what he’s doing is stopping their decline into victimhood and teaching them to fight back. As time goes by, his hard-faced approach becomes something more profound and paternal, especially with surrogate son, Miguel.
Sense of Honour
Cobra Kai also tackles cyberbullying. From the guidance counselor’s awkward assembly in the cafeteria talking about the impact of online bullying, through to Johnny’s advice on how to deal with it, the issue is never far from the surface. But, having grown up in an era of less cultural sensitivity, Johnny at first sees the problem differently. When Aisha explains how she’s cyberbullied, he at first seems compassionate. But then he continues “What a bunch of pussies. Back in my day, if you wanted to tease someone you did it to their face. These geeks hiding behind their computers, what a bunch of spineless losers.”
While there’s something perverse about the honor of tormenting his former victims to their face, Johnny’s pep talk inspires Aisha not to be afraid of these faceless tormentors. It’s great to see his students grow in confidence and self-respect. There are some nasty side effects: when his students subscribe to the darker arts of winning, Johnny finally sees things differently. His redemption begins, and his lost sense of honor returns.
As the story unfolds, we continue to root for Sensei Johnny Lawrence as he takes on the world armed with his new and evolving moral philosophy. Sometimes it works for him, sometimes it doesn’t, but right up to the end of season 2, we love seeing him try; bloodied and bruised as he is. We can only hope he comes back fighting in season 3 when, hopefully, everything will feel better for all of us. The world has been battered by 2020, but Cobra Kai has eased the pain a bit.
The first two seasons of Cobra Kai are now available to stream on Netflix. Season 3 is released on January 8, 2021.
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Anthony Murphy is a new addition to the Future of the Force roster. A child of the 80s, Anthony is a Lucasfilm fanboy. A weekend watching Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Willow is considered bliss. When off duty being a dad and hubby, you’ll find him watching football, searching for the perfect Kuwahara BMX online, and writing his Star Wars website, Rebel Briefing. Find him on Twitter @Anthony08042015 trying to make sense of the world, both real and imagined.