With the future of both their dojos on the line, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) join forces to take down John Kreese (Martin Kove) and his Cobra Kai at the All-Valley Karate Tournament. But old rivalries don’t die easily, and Kreese has an ace up his sleeve in the form of an old friend…
Streaming on: Netflix
Episodes viewed: 10 of 10
The Karate Kid Part III might not have been the most illustrious entry in the wax-on/wax-off saga, but it did introduce a compelling wrinkle: driving a wedge between Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his bonsai-trimming mentor, Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita). This fourth season of Netflix’s hugely enjoyable spin-off — which takes most of its cues from that film — introduces its own existential discord by having Daniel and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) engage in a battle for their students’ souls.
Burying the hatchet to take on John Kreese (Martin Kove) and his Cobra Kai, Daniel’s Miyagi-do school and Johnny’s oh-so-metal Eagle Fang Karate combine classes to train for the All-Valley Tournament, which will decide which dojos stay open and which hang up their black belts for good. For Daniel, karate is all meditation, painting fences and restraint, which strikes an unlikely chord with Johnny’s star pupil, Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), irritating his sensei no end. Meanwhile, Eagle Fang’s training regime involves students whacking each other repeatedly in the crotch, jumping off buildings, and roundhouse-kicking the sea, which draws out the wild side in Daniel’s daughter, Sam (Mary Mouser). The bickering senseis are even more entertaining as odd-couple frenemies than they were as rivals, and if Daniel’s dime-store Buddha routine wears slightly thin at times (deep sai), the same cannot be said of Zabka’s Johnny. His unreconstructed ’80s doofus remains as riotous as ever, whether in asserting his fragile masculinity (“Do I look like I pee sitting down?”) or frantically Googling “How do I tell my student I’m banging his mom?”
A glossier affair, capped with a show-stopping finale that somehow manages to raise the stakes yet again.
The joy of Cobra Kai is, as ever, in its wry self-awareness, this time not only styling out comparisons to Rocky III but deliberately cranking up the ham factor, thanks to the return of Karate Kid III’s pony-tailed tormentor, Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith). With only a passing reflection on past misdeeds — “I was hopped-up on cocaine and revenge!” — he walks away from a life of tofu canapés to rejoin the Cobras, teaming up with Klove’s Kreese to form a duo so outrageous as to make even the most ’80s of villains look positively restrained.
Despite the presence of Silver, the addition of new kid Kenny (Dallas Dupree Young), and a slight reshuffle of the dojo rosters (the show pulls off face/heel switcheroos that put the WWE to shame), Season 4 does run out of steam slightly in the middle, keeping its powder dry for the big finale. Thankfully, the tournament doesn’t disappoint, inexplicably granting this high-school sporting event all the razzmatazz of an X-Factor finale, while putting on a battle for the ages that sees bad blood boil over, while yanking our loyalties to and fro.
There’s nothing quite as bonkers as Season 2’s high-school rumble (the Jets and Sharks have nothing on these warring dojos), but this fourth year is a glossier affair, capped with a show-stopping finale that somehow manages to raise the stakes yet again as it sets the scene for Season 5. Begun this karate war has.
Like a tornado kick to the face, Season 4 may take a while to wind up but it smacks you squarely in the teeth by the end.