Review: ‘Cobra Kai 3’ expands ‘Karate Kid’ universe through perfectly executed plot, remarkable portrayal of character growth

New season surpasses expectations, tops charts


Makayla Archambeault

The original release date for Cobra Kai’s season three was set for Jan. 8, 2021 but on Dec. 24, 2020 Netflix announced the release date was to be moved up to Jan. 1, 2021. The season debuted at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and has since received an average score of 93%.

Makayla Archambeault, Editor-in-Chief

*This review contains spoilers for The Karate Kid movies and Seasons 1-2 of Cobra Kai

Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? When the original Karate Kid was released in 1984, the story was just that, an underdog with seemingly no chance at coming out on top. But with a little bit of guidance, he takes the trophy home after delivering a perfectly-placed crane kick to win the Under 18 All-Valley Karate Championships. 

Back then, this was easy for audiences to accept. The characters were very black and white, either completely good or completely evil. However, since then film overall has evolved to portray characters in a more gray-area, which reflects the complexity of humans by nature as no one person can be completely good or completely bad. There is no better example of these complex characters than those portrayed in Cobra Kai.

The storyline of Cobra Kai follows the characters of the original Karate Kid movie, but with the focus placed on the main antagonist of the movie, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), 30 years after the 1984 All-Valley Karate Championships.

Season three picks up after a huge school fight between the two competing karate dojos in the area, Cobra Kai, led by Lawrence, and Miyagi-do, led by Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), the original protagonist of the movie. The fight left characters Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) in a coma, Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) on the run from the police, Samantha LaRusso (Mary Mouser) dealing with trauma and PTSD, Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) itching to get his revenge and Tory Nichols (Peyton List) with an eagerness to fight being restrained by her family situation.

With a cast of characters so huge, most shows crack under the pressure and ultimately end up with an uneven amount of screen time that leaves at least some of the audience disappointed in the lack of development for one or two of the principal characters. Cobra Kai is not one of those shows.

The connections between the characters within this show are so complex it simply cannot be explained without physically going to watch the entire series start-to-finish (which is highly recommended), however, even as the relationships twist and turn, the show progresses in a way that is easy to follow and doesn’t waste any time getting straight to the action while easily threading in character’s motivations.

Throughout the season, it becomes harder and harder to choose a favorite character as each shows so much growth, and it’s not guaranteed that character’s personalities will even be the same by the end of the episode as motivations and thought-processes change based on the events of the show.

Despite how confusing the changing characters may sound, there are two main reasons that, when portrayed on-screen, the story is easy to follow: the actors’ portrayal of the characters and the beautifully crafted plot that never fails to miss a detail. 

Almost every performance in the show is spot-on and even the characters that have returned from the original movies are still portrayed in a believable way that reflects their characters in a new era. 

The standout performance of this season, without question, is the portrayal of Demetri by Gianni DeCenzo. Although his role wasn’t huge, the character evolved from his role of comic relief in the first two seasons to a true character with his own motivations and development throughout the third season. DeCenzo portrayed the character perfectly by pairing Demetri’s charm and nerdiness with his newfound confidence in his abilities while also recognizing his true longing for peace.

The creators of the show, Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, have always done a phenomenal job of weaving in details from the original movies with the plot of Cobra Kai to give the show just enough of a nod back to the OG while also establishing itself as its own series. While this portrayal has been good in the past, this season surpassed all expectations previously set by the first two seasons.

With a focus on the events of The Karate Kid Part II, primarily for Daniel’s storyline, the lessons highlighted within that movie were directly applied to the situations arising within the series. What was especially interesting to watch play out was the incorporation of John Kreese (Martin Kove) as a character in the series and applying his plot points to the lessons in The Karate Kid Part II, as that was the only original movie that his character did not play a significant role in.

Additionally, the simultaneous storytelling of Kreese’s background throughout the season felt a little offbeat for the rest of the series at first, but by the end I found myself appreciating the extra time spent to explore his background because it not only reflected him as a character, but it also expanded the Karate Kid/Cobra Kai universe in a way I was not expecting but ultimately made sense seeing as he was the original founder of Cobra Kai.

Following the previous season, trailers for season three teased a team-up between Lawrence and LaRusso to combine efforts to go up against Kreese, as his return marked a new era of Cobra Kai, one that Lawrence hadn’t planned when he re-opened the dojo in the first place. As the trailer offers glimpses of, the interactions between the two arch-enemies provide a welcome source of comic relief amongst the humor methodically sprinkled throughout the series and was definitely one of the highlights of the season.

The most recent season of Cobra Kai clearly had one overall goal in mind: expansion. Whether it was the expansion of the setting, character development, relationships or the stakes within the show, the goal was achieved. As each new season comes out, it gets harder and harder for the producers to top the previous season, but they haven’t disappointed yet. 

As a kid who spent hours upon hours practicing the crane kick in my room after watching the original movies and begging my parents to let me take a martial arts class, Cobra Kai has found a way to pay tribute to the events and lessons taught in The Karate Kid movies that I adored as a kid (and still do) while simultaneously expanding the universe in a way that feels natural and makes sense for the plot of the series.

Whether you grew up watching The Karate Kid or not, Cobra Kai is an exciting and driven show that anyone from upper middle school to their parents will be able to genuinely enjoy.

To view the trailer for Cobra Kai 3, click here.