This is a non-spoiler review for all 10 episodes of Cobra Kai: Season 3 – which is now on Netflix a week earlier than expected, on Jan 1, 2021.
Cobra Kai continues its totally awesome winning streak with a third season that achieves a resoundingly fun balance between triumphant and corny. The show’s “80s Movie 2.0″ approach adds depth and layers to the slightly single-cell organism original films while still gloriously capturing the spirit and feel of the franchise. As we’ve seen with Cobra Kai’s previous two seasons, this after-the-sunset approach to The Karate Kid is a perfect blend of drama, comedy, and stand up and cheer moments.
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At first glance, it’s an absolutely absurdist take to portray Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) as a “man out of time” the way he is. It’s one thing to not be up on the latest technology but it’s another to, basically, seem like you’ve been frozen in ice, Steve Rogers-style, for 30 years. But Cobra Kai makes this work. As a running gag, even. As it also does with Daniel’s (Ralph Macchio) penchant for being wildly obtuse — like an overprotective sitcom dad constantly screwing up — and in constant need of some other person, or memory of Mr. Miyagi to snap him out of his stubbornness. Cobra Kai rides certain tropes like a surfboard, knowing that clichés (and over-the-top coincidences) can be a good and welcome thing when you’ve given viewers characters they want to engage with and outcomes they want to root for.
Cobra Kai went big with its first season, giving us a climax involving an All Valley Karate Tournament and a crowned victor. Since the show is, more or less, clocking time at a reasonable pace, it had a lot to prove in Season 2 when it basically had to portray the summer following Miguel’s big win. No school. No fight to immediately train for. Just the lives of these characters and the fallout from Johnny’s “badass” lessons inadvertently turning former victims into the new bullies. And Johnny’s slow, but well-earned, realization regarding Kreese’s toxic teachings.
Then Season 2 ended with the Helm’s Deep of high school karate brawls and Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) taking a huge fall off a second-story landing and winding up in a coma. Johnny’s son Robby (Tanner Buchanan) is to blame, Daniel’s daughter Sam (Mary Mouser) feels responsible, Miyagi-Do is taking the heat (despite being the peaceful dojo), and freakin’ John Kreese (Martin Kove) has swept in and stolen Johnny’s students from him. Season 3 is all about the aftermath of the school fight, Johnny’s self-hatred spiral, Miguel’s road to recovery, Kreese’s ever-expanding influence, Miyagi-Do’s redemption, and so much more. For its second season in a row with no tournament, Cobra Kai proves that good storytelling, smart (occasionally winking) writing, and a deeper exploration into these ’80s movie legacy characters can provide effortless entertainment.
Like the Crane Kick itself, to paraphrase Mr. Miyagi, when it’s done well, there’s no defense against Cobra Kai’s greatness.
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On top of all this, and par-for-the-course with Cobra Kai, the various “bully redemption” arcs are on point. The show’s secret weapon has been its ability to re-examine seemingly single-note “bad” characters from its original films and make you empathize with them. Or, in the very least, explain why they are the way they are and that no one treats people poorly, or behaves abhorrently for no reason. Everyone who joined Cobra Kai in Season 1 did so for a reason. And latched onto Johnny as a Sensei for a reason. Now the same can be said for those who choose to stay with Cobra Kai under the merciless rule of Kreese.
Everyone is on a specific, separate journey and Cobra Kai is always mindful of that, and to make people’s choices as believable as possible. That doesn’t necessarily mean every twist and turn lands perfectly, or that you’re not often watching characters make terrible choices, but an effort is always made to make you understand why they’re making certain decisions. And that everyone is as fleshed-out as possible. Does that mean that you’ll start feeling sorry for John Kreese? Of all people? Well, don’t rule it out! No one remains a cardboard cutout on this series. It’s almost like there’s a standing “no bully left behind” initiative. As Daniel slowly learns to take his share of the blame for his past conflicts, his old enemies also get rounded out in kind, and in style.
From the Season 3 trailer, you can spot scenes from Daniel’s trip to Japan, and in an effort to not spoil too much I won’t go into detail about his exploits there this season except to say that Cobra Kai’s use of the ’80s films, and its characters (sometimes super-obscure ones), remains an absolute blast. It never leans too heavily on them, or uses them as a crutch. Instead, as both Daniel and Johnny examine their lives and start walking half-miles in each others’ shoes, these faces from the past swoop in, in ways that feel fairly organic, to help provide third-party perspectives.
For fans of the old films, the Daniel/Johnny angle is, or at least was the big draw. Such as the wreckage their stubborn feud has caused and being invested in their reconciliation (no matter how slow it happens). But Cobra Kai also spends as much time with Maridueña, Buchanan, Mouser, and the rest of the young cast — like Peyton List, Jacob Bertrand, Gianni Decenzo, and more — as it does with the legacy bunch. And these teens’ various struggles, as they shift back and forth between the light and dark side, continues to be the show’s lifeblood.
The teens are growing up in the world of Cobra Kai, not Karate Kid, and the landscape is more complex. Their fights and feuds, which have now long outlasted the Season 1 tournament, have actual consequences. Cobra Kai is grittier and grimier while still also being a heightened, occasionally meta, experience. Season 3 features a lot of “fallen” characters and focuses on how they help themselves, and each other, get back up.
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Source: IGN.com Cobra Kai Season 3 Review