Cobra Kai season 2 has evolved beyond The Karate Kid movies - and it's awesome. Just like Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) wanted to move Cobra Kai karate past the old ways of his sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove), in season 2, the YouTube Premium series moved beyond nostalgia for the 1980s movies about Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and told a new kind of Karate Kid story fans have never seen before. Cobra Kai season 2 was about balance, and while the series struggled at times to walk the line between being modern and being a throwback, when the students of Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do took center stage, they proved they are the best around.
Fans of The Karate Kid were shocked and delighted when they discovered Cobra Kai season 1 was really good. The continuation series picked up 34 years after Daniel defeated Johnny at the All-Valley Karate Tournament, vividly and humorously contrasting successful family man Daniel with Johnny, a down-on-his-luck loser still trapped in his 80s glory days. When Johnny restarted the Cobra Kai dojo to turn his life around, Daniel responded with horror that the karate cult that tormented his high school years was rising again.
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Cobra Kai season 1 won over skeptical fans with its savvy mix of callbacks to the first three films and for introducing endearing new characters like Johnny's star pupil Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), Daniel's daughter Samantha (Mary Mouser), his wife Amanda (Courtney Henggeler), Johnny's estranged son Robby (Tanner Buchanan), and their high school friends. Season 1 explored how well Cobra Kai's "strike first, strike hard, no mercy" credo would work on teenagers in 2018 (remarkably well, it turns out), but Cobra Kai season 2 was about Daniel striking back by opening up Miyagi-Do karate so that his students could learn to defend themselves against Cobra Kai.
And whereas the original three Karate Kid films were about Daniel (with Mr. Miyagi's guidance) against all odds, both seasons of Cobra Kai brilliantly built up to a full-on karate war between the students of both dojos. By the end of Cobra Kai season 2, it's become clear that the YouTube series has broken out repeating what worked in the 1980s and has successfully struck upon a new kind of Karate Kid story:
Cobra Kai No Longer Needs To Rely On Karate Kid Movie Nostalgia
Cobra Kai season 1 scored big laughs with its heavy reliance on Karate Kid nostalgia, especially the dynamite sequence when Johnny explained the events of the first movie to Miguel from his point of view, painting Daniel as the villain. However, Cobra Kai season 2 was more clever in how it paid tribute to the films. Daniel and Robby rebuilt Mr. Miyagi's house into the Miyagi-Do dojo but LaRusso soon learned the methods his wise old sensei used to specifically train him don't quite translate to modern teenagers, especially someone as neurotic as Demitri (Gianni Decenzo). Thus, Daniel laudably invented his own training methods (but he still makes his students wax cars and paint his fence). Daniel turned out to be a good sensei, even though it meant his neglecting his wife and car dealership. One of the best lessons Daniel imparted to his students began with the revelation that he once joined Cobra Kai in The Karate Kid Part III and how it twisted him into an angry and violent person. This wasn't just another callback, it was an effective way to reference that film to enhance the series.
Meanwhile, Johnny is proudly and defiantly a 1980s man through-and-through, but even he saw the need to evolve both his dojo and in his personal life (but only so long as he remains "badass"). Because he cares about Miguel and his students, Johnny revised his philosophy that it was important to "show honor and mercy" and keep "moving forward", and this seems to be the mantra of Cobra Kai season 2 as well. The series made clear that reveling in the black-and-white rigidity that defined Cobra Kai in the 1980s was damaging long term and turns people into "a**holes", and he wanted his students to be better than that. Cobra Kai is inextricably tied to The Karate Kid films, but season 2 used nostalgia as teaching methods and not merely for fan service. Even Johnny's reunion with his old Cobra Kai high school buddies had lessons about mortality and making better use of your life.
While Miguel, Sam, Robby, and Tory (Peyton List) are all knowledgable about the 1980s (and even attend an 80s-themed cosplay party), Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) exemplifies the worst kind of 80s nostalgia. With his 80s punk mohawk, Hawk adheres the "no mercy" Cobra Kai credo and he becomes a sociopathic bully. In all, Cobra Kai season 2 shines best when it lets the young cast take the lessons of the past and interpret them to work for their modern sensibilities. When Cobra Kai focuses on the next generation, nostalgia becomes less relevant because the series' karate kids are such well-developed characters.
Kreese Is The Weak Link Of Cobra Kai Season 2
Cobra Kai season 1 had fun by highlighting the contrasting virtues and flaws of both Daniel and Johnny, but Cobra Kai season 2 brought in a pure villain, John Kreese. While Martin Kove still brings the requisite menace, Kreese feels like a step backward for the series, an awkward throwback to the binary good vs. evil of The Karate Kid movies that didn't quite gel in this more richly complex continuation series. The issue with Kreese is that Cobra Kai examines how everyone has good and bad sides, but Kreese is so obviously evil, he sticks out like a sore thumb. Johnny was wise to initially throw Kreese out and refuse to work with him, only to relent when he believed Kreese's sob story about how he turned a homeless vagrant for the past 30 years. This was a brief attempt to humanize Kreese, but it unsurprisingly turned out to be a lie.
Once he was back in Johnny's good graces, Kreese was clearly a corrupting influence and it made Johnny look dumb for standing idly by and allowing his old sensei to poison his students. Johnny's ineptitude is great for comedy, like how he didn't know how to turn on a laptop or how to use his new smartphone, but the way Kreese stole the Cobra Kai dojo right out from under Johnny's nose made Sensei Lawrence come off like a fool. Worse, it was so obviously telegraphed that the final twist at the end of the Cobra Kai season 2 finale, "No Mercy", came as no surprise. It's never a good thing when the audience knows what the villain is up to but the hero is blind to it. While Cobra Kai did need a villain to pit both Johnny and Daniel against, Kreese comes off like a mustache-twirling cartoon bad guy who should have stayed in the 1980s films where he belongs.
The Cobra Kai Vs. Miyagi-Do War Was Season 2's Masterstroke
The best thing about Cobra Kai season 2 was how it masterfully built to a Karate Kid story the franchise hadn't done before: all-out war between the students of Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do dojos. Although Sam said at the start of the season she didn't want to fight Cobra Kai, like her father before her, she found herself pitted against her own arch enemy, Tory, and the two of them finally set off the powderkeg. Cobra Kai season 2 gradually escalated the war with little skirmishes, like a brawl at the mall food court, and games of one-upsmanship, but in the season 2 finale, tensions exploded in a full-on karate gang war at their high school - which was the most spectacular fight sequence (much of it performed by the actors) fans have ever seen in The Karate Kid saga. And the melee ended in a horrific tragedy when Miguel was seriously injured by Robby.
Cobra Kai season 2 references Grease and The Outsiders (another 80s film Ralph Macchio starred in) when setting up its teen dojo war, but the series brilliantly explored how the students are all different flavors of karate kids. Sam is a good person with her heart in the right place but she has her father's temper. Miguel is also a lovable kid with a good heart, but trusting Johnny implicitly and showing Robby mercy turned out to be a mistake. By contrast, Robby benefited from Miyagi-Do's training and by the kindness of the LaRussos but there's a rotten core to him that reflects his father Johnny's worst aspects. Tory is a reversal of what Daniel was in the original film; she's a poor kid who resents Sam for being affluent the way teenage Daniel initially saw Johnny. The love quadrangle between the four of them was Cobra Kai season 2's most finely executed balance. Even Hawk, the most villainous of the Cobra Kai, had fleeting moments of doubt before he harded his resolve "not to be a p*ssy". Along with the other characters like Demetri, Aisha (Nichole Brown), and even Moon (Hannah Kepple), the young cast of Cobra Kai season 2 delivered a fresh, new spin on The Karate Kid story.
Johnny And Daniel As A Team Is The Best Next Step
The tragic conclusion of Cobra Kai season 2 set the stage for something else Karate Kid fans haven't seen: Daniel and Johnny working together in Cobra Kai season 3. In "No Mercy", Robby foreshadowed a possible team-up when he told his father "maybe you guys could learn a thing or two from each other". Indeed, the eternal rivals even found they could enjoy a truce and a night of salsa dancing with their significant others before they came to blows again. While Daniel was able to prepare his students to fight Cobra Kai, ultimately, they both lost their dojos and failed as senseis, leaving the Valley wide open for Kreese's Cobra Kai to run amok.
If Johnny and Daniel combining their knowledge to benefit the students still loyal to them is the next step, it's the most fitting payoff to this saga. Cobra Kai crackles every time Ralph Macchio and William Zabka share the screen, and the series has set them up as the ultimate odd couple. Cobra Kai season 2 explored what Daniel and Johnny's senseis meant to them, but at this point in the story, both of them are ready to finally completely assume the role of sensei without needing Mr. Miyagi or Kreese to show them the way. With the tease of a possible appearance of Elisabeth Shue as Ali in Cobra Kai season 3, Karate Kid nostalgia will still have a role to play. But the young cast has earned the spotlight and for the students to win the war with Kreese's Cobra Kai, it'll take Daniel and Johnny moving forward together, which promises another exciting evolution of the Karate Kid story in Cobra Kai season 3.
Cobra Kai seasons 1 & 2 are available to stream on YouTube Premium.