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Cobra Kai Season 3 (Spoiler Free) Review: The Dojos Sweep the Leg Again

Three men sit next to each other. Still from Heald, Hurwitz, Schlossberg, Cobra Kai (Season 3, Episode 8).

By: Fahad Shafat

After a long year-and-a-half wait, Cobra Kai’s Season 3 has finally arrived on Netflix. Cobra Kai is a continuation of The Karate Kid franchise, the first installment of which dropped in 1984. The Karate Kid revolves around Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), the new kid who begins training under Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) in order to confront his bully Johnny Lawrence (William Zambia). The film received critical acclaim for its story and characters, which allowed it to spawn three sequels released in 1986, 1989, and 1994. Although each film received mixed to negative reviews, the franchise itself remains a popular relic from the 80s. In 2017, three fans of the franchise, Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg, set out to create a series about the lives of Daniel and Johnny in the present. Though they received offers from Netflix, the creators released the first season of the show, consisting of 10 episodes, on Youtube Red. Within a few days after the series premiere on May 2, 2018, the first two episodes released for free received 5.4 million views (Porch, 2018). Cobra Kai became the world’s most popular streaming show in May 2018. On Rotten Tomatoes, the first season received a perfect 100% score, and it was heavily praised for its perfect use of nostalgia, which blended both old and new generation viewers of the series. 

While original fans recognize Johnny Lawrence for his role as an iconic 1980s bully, modern viewers understand Johnny to be a more nuanced character. Cobra Kai tells the events of The Karate Kid from Johnny's perspective, which gives Johnny’s character more depth and relatability. Critics praised William Zabka’s performance and even believed that Zabka outperformed Ralph Macchio. According to an article on Mercatornet, the show manages to respect the characters in a way that is comparable to the treatment of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The second season, which was released in April 2019, also received critical acclaim. However, fans had to wait for almost two years for the third season due to the series’s shift from YouTube Red to Netflix in August 2020.

The third season picks up after an immense high school brawl between the two dojos of Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai, which resulted in a jaw-dropping cliffhanger with Johnny’s star pupil, Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), breaking his back and getting sent to the hospital. Meanwhile, the perpetrator, Johnny’s son Robby (Tanner Buchanan), is on the run. The season truly shows the devastating impact of this event on the lives of the main characters. It manages to keep the viewers engaged in the story of a season as bingeable already in the first few episodes that set the stories for where each of the characters is going.

A surprising standout of the show was the original main antagonist of The Karate Kid Parts I and III, John Kreese. Martin Kove brilliantly reprises his role as the ruthless instructor who shows his opponents no mercy. Furthermore, the audience finally gets to see John Kreese’s backstory. Viewers get to watch flashbacks of a much younger Kreese (Barrett Carnahan) prior to and during his enlistment in the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. Fans both old and new finally get to understand exactly what changed him into the evil karate sensei that his character is well-known for today. With all of these aspects described, Cobra Kai Season 3 is a masterpiece of its own and a rewarding fan service worth the long wait.