One of Netflix’s smartest acquisitions over the years has been YouTube Original Cobra Kai. With the show already renewed for a fifth season, the fourth feels like a transition shift in many ways, taking onboard all the criticisms leveled against the show and doing its best to try and address them.
Although there are parts here that don’t fire on all cylinders, and the new characters are largely ineffective (minus one crucial antagonist for Cobra Kai), everything else is much smoother and harks back to where Cobra Kai is at its strongest – when it depicts the ever-evolving relationship between Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso.
The story this year picks up right off the back of the previous one. If you need a recap, we’ve got all three seasons, recaps and even a handy story recap ready to go to get you up to scratch! LaRusso and Lawrence both merge their respective dojos together, with Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang combining forces to take down the might of Cobra Kai.
John Kreese soon realizes what’s happened and recruits an old face of his own, freshening up the Cobra Kai ranks with new blood as the two prepare to square off at the upcoming All Valley Karate Tournament.
While the third season threw everything and the kitchen sink at the show, resulting in a slightly disjointed and overly busy show that spun way too many plates, season 4 strips a lot of that back in favour of building up a more consistent story between LaRusso and Lawrence. A lot of the concerns we leveled against this show came from how this took a backseat but that’s not the case here.
With this rivalry/team-up at the forefront of the series, Cobra Kai remains wickedly funny with some goofy jokes, laugh out loud segments and some wonderfully emotive moments late on. There’s the usual cheesy one-liners and one absolutely perfect reference to Rocky III (complete with a Rocky-esque montage) but all of this plays into the consistent tone Cobra Kai has done so well to reinforce this year.
Both Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso have great character development this year, with the pair learning, growing, evolving and fighting with one another across the season. By the end of the season Daniel is much more open to going on the attack while Johnny surprisingly starts to adopt some defence. The pair are balanced out like ying and yang; they compliment one another perfectly.
However, they’re joined by Eli, Tory, Miguel, Robby and Sam who each bring their own evolving dynamics to this bubbling pot of karate action. Of course, the usual teen drama is still here too, and there’s the emergence of our love square late on, but it’s much more subdued this time around. The screenwriters wisely keep a lot of this at arm’s length, instead focusing on preparing for the tournament and the rivalry with Cobra Kai.
That’s not to the say the series isn’t without its flaws though. There are a couple of new characters this year that feel wasted or ineffective. There’s a change at the tournament that sees the dojos recruit more female members but the new additions to each dojo add absolutely nothing to the show and largely fall under the radar.
Likewise, new boy Kenny is showcased but he’s largely there to work off Robby, as he takes the boy under his wing. The interesting dynamic with Kenny though comes from his bully at school – which happens to be Anthony LaRusso.
I won’t go into spoiler territory but this season has some big twists and the finale is by far the best of the bunch when it comes to this. Given I watched the whole season back to back, there’s never a moment where the show rests on its laurels and the final 45 minute chapter throws a whole bunch of surprises, from the winners of the tournament to a couple of last minute twists and gasp-inducing reveals.
It’s a wonderful way to close out this fourth season and leaves things resting nicely for the fifth season. Cobra Kai strikes hard, strikes first and shows absolutely no mercy to its doubters this year – season 4 is brilliant fun and a great way to round out a tumultuous 2021.
Cobra Kai Season 4 releases on 31st December 2021 worldwide on Netflix!
Verdict - 8/10