How Cobra Kai Season 5 Recontextualizes Karate Kid Part III

How Cobra Kai Season 5 Recontextualizes Karate Kid Part III

Movie fans love to rank their favourite franchises. What’s the best Star Wars movie? What’s the best Lord of the Rings movie? What’s the best James Bond movie? The potential lists go on and on. But one list is absolutely, positively, never-in-doubt definitive.

The Karate Kid films, Ranked (Original Trilogy Only)

  1. The Karate Kid
  2. The Karate Kid Part II
  3. The Karate Kid Part III

That’s it. No notes. Seriously, who doesn’t think the first Karate Kid is the best (around) and the third is the worst? Even its stars agree.

“I’m the first to say [Karate Kid Part III] is not a good film,” Thomas Ian Griffin, who plays the film’s villain, Terry Silver, said to Gizmodo during a recent press day. And yet, in the upcoming fifth season of Cobra Kai, Griffin’s character is the focal point of everything. We also know thanks to Netflix that the film’s “bad boy” character Mike Barnes, played by Sean Kanan, is coming back — and maybe there’s more, too. But either way, The Karate Kid Part III, the worst Karate Kid film, is essential to the future of the massive hit Netflix show, and that is certainly not how Griffin and his co-star Ralph Macchio, who plays Daniel LaRusso, the Karate Kid himself, saw this going.

“Even the shortcomings of this franchise bear fruit going forward,” Macchio told Gizmodo. “Early on, my first meeting with Jon [Hurwitz], Josh [Heald], and Hayden [Schlossberg], who created this show, they were talking about the potential of Terry Silver in the distance and Mike Barnes and all this stuff if it ever got up in the air. That was like the last time they saw The Karate Kid… so it means something to them and that sort of heightened element of what Karate Kid Part III was, has been brought forth into Cobra Kai’s heightened tone.”

How does Mike Barnes fit into all this? Time will tell. (Image: Netflix)
How does Mike Barnes fit into all this? Time will tell. (Image: Netflix)

The reasons why The Karate Kid Part III are the worse of the franchise are numerous, to say the least. It’s a meaner film, it cuts corners, and it’s not something Macchio is necessarily proud of. But Griffith looks at it in a different way.

“[Writer] Robert Kamen was thinking he had to create a villain badder than [John] Kreese,” Griffin said. “So it’s like this over the top thing, and I’m going… is this a little much? And [director John] Avelson was like, ‘This is the humour of this character. This is going to drive new life into the franchise.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’m going for it.’ So that type of commitment, which is sort of Terry’s commitment, is what I can look back and go, ‘I’m fond of that. I’m proud of that.’”

Pride factors into Silver’s storyline in Cobra Kai too. His betrayal of best friend Kreese and hostile takeover of Cobra Kai is the main throughline of the season — a big part of which becomes the fact that Daniel LaRusso finds himself in a very unique position, one that’s wholly informed by the point of view of the third film.

“It shows how you could use and grow different paths in different directions,” Macchio said. “The ‘A’ storyline of season five for Daniel LaRusso is Terry Silver, and he being the only person in that world that knows he’s evil, besides Mike Barnes. And so as far as from the perspective of Johnny Lawrence and everyone else, the young cast and Amanda [LaRusso] and everyone else, they don’t know that.”

Of course this guy was evil! (Silver in The Karate Kid Part III) (Image: Sony)
Of course this guy was evil! (Silver in The Karate Kid Part III) (Image: Sony)

Daniel might be the only one who knows Silver is pure evil at the beginning of the season, but that won’t be the case by the end of the season. And Griffin relished the chance to dig back in. “To bring that character back, it’s funny because in a way, it’s a redemption story,” he said. “We are really seeing what drove Terry Silver. We got to tell that story. So when you look back, I think it’s that much more fun watching Karate Kid III. Not that I’m saying anyone should go back and watch Karate Kid III right now. But still, I think it really informs us to his world and where he was psychologically that just makes it that much more interesting. And on the flip side, that makes Terry Silver in Cobra Kai — in this goofy, ridiculous world — a very fascinating, watchable character.”

Macchio agrees. While the integration of The Karate Kid Part III is good for the story and the future of Cobra Kai, it doesn’t change how he feels about it. “It enhances Cobra Kai going forward,” he said. “But will I go back to watching Karate Kid III and say ‘This is a brilliant film and I feel the LaRusso in that story is the best he’s been in all three movies?’ No. It’s not going to change that, but man has it been an amazing gift going forward now.”

We’ll have more Cobra Kai in the coming days. The fifth season debuts September 9.

Want more Gizmodo news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

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