Cobra Kai Season 5 Review: We're In The Endgame Now

In its fifth season, "Cobra Kai" gets both its "Empire Strikes Back" moment and its "Avengers: Endgame" moment, as the legacy sequel reaches its finest moment. The show also throws any resemblance to the real world out of the window and goes full sports anime. This means the show has its own ridiculous set of rules and laws that may not make sense in our world, but if you're willing to accept that in this version of the San Fernando Valley the only law is karate, then you might find this season utterly delightful. Add some career-best performances by some of the cast members, one incredible cartoon villain, and thrilling stunts, and you've got a season that is the best, around.

We pick up where we left off last season, with Cobra Kai cheating its way to the top of the All Valley Under 18 Karate Tournament, Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny (William Zabka) forced to shut down their dojos, and Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) in Mexico looking for his father.

Daniel LaRusso's test of faith

This is to say, the first half of the season starts in a really dark and hopeless place, especially for Daniel LaRusso. So far, every two seasons of "Cobra Kai" have acted as a sort of follow-up to each of the films in the original movie. This makes this season the "Karate Kid Part III" of the series, serving as LaRusso's test of faith as he faces his lowest point and his inner darkness as he did in that movie.

The man who spent four seasons criticizing and belittling Johnny for his lack of honor finds himself fighting fire with fire at every turn this time around. He breaks the promise he made last season to leave Cobra Kai alone, and leave karate for good. Instead, he contacts his former enemy and duel-to-the-death opponent, Chozen Toguchi (season MVP Yuji Okumoto), to bring Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) down by fighting dirty and personally.

If you thought his squabble with Johnny was dumb and blown out of proportion, then Daniel's fight against Silver is an all-out total war. This time, things go outside the dojo mats and into the homes of the fighters, with Daniel's vendetta impacting his personal life to the point where even Johnny Lawrence looks at his former rival with pity and compassion. Macchio delivers one of the best performances of his career this season, showing a desperate, unhinged LaRusso whose every waking moment is spent thinking of ways to stop Silver. Every time he utters the name Silver, it carries the weight of 40 years of trauma and pain.

An old villain and a new friend

This all works because Terry Silver is phenomenal as a villain. He is much different than Kreese, a less physically intimidating, but just as scary presence. Just like when he debuted in "The Karate Kid Part III," Silver is more of a cartoonish anime villain, one that acts nice to your face while stabbing you in the back at the same time as he plots to take over the world.

Griffith fully leans into Silver's status as an obscenely wealthy white man — one that is still such a weeb his entire house is styled as a traditional Japanese home, complete with a basement full of katanas and other medieval Japanese artifacts — and how that immediately gives him a level of credibility and forgiveness that surpasses any accusation of abuse or of literally hiring a thug to harass and beat up a kid.

On the other hand, we have former enemy-turned-best-bud Chozen, who easily becomes the MVP of the season. He is essentially one big caricature, a blood-thirsty karate master assassin that acts like a member of the Yakuza and brings twin sai everywhere he goes. And yet Yuji Okumoto fully leans into it, playing the part up with such gusto and charm that you can't help but laugh along with him and cheer whenever he suggests just going up to Silver and cutting him up a bit. It's an over-the-top performance that perfectly matches the over-the-top tone of the season. 

Karate Avengers, assemble

If the first half of the season is all about the good guys being backed into a corner, then the second half finds its "on your left" moment, and making strides towards stopping Silver. We already know that Mike Barnes from "Part III" shows up this season, and there are even more surprising guests showing up, bringing us even closer to completing every major cameo from the original films — meaning we're even closer to the inevitable appearance by Hilary Swank's Julie Pierce.

Even the tone changes drastically in this latter half, with more (and better) jokes. There's also a running gag about Johnny's love of "Rocky" that could cause many a head scratches given that Survivor's song "Eye of the Tiger" is featured in an episode, while Survivor also wrote "The Moment of Truth," which was used as the theme song for "The Karate Kid."

As for the fight scenes, they continue to be a highlight, even if they have stopped having any actual resemblance to real karate years ago (and are essentially MMA brawls now). We even see more of the adults fighting this season, and it is an absolute treat seeing some of these actors kick as much ass as they do. One thing the show does really well is connect the past to the present, even in fight scenes, with one particularly thrilling fight in the finale being cut against flashbacks to the original movies that adds gravitas to the present.

We're in the Endgame now

It is a "Karate Kid" fan's dream come true to watch the hero of the original "The Karate Kid" team up with both the villain of the first film, plus the villain of the second movie, all to fight the villain of the third film, Terry Silver. That "Cobra Kai" finds a compelling and believable reason for these three to come together is a testament to the writers.

Five seasons in, "Cobra Kai" has reached the point where most sitcoms start changing up the formula in order to keep audiences engaged. Though this season does change the status quo and adds both complications and sweet developments to the characters' stories, it doesn't feel like a show trying to keep things fresh as it does a show entering its endgame. The initial premise of this story was that these two kids from the '80s could not move past something that happened 40 years prior, and while there are still issues to revolve, we are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel where Daniel and Johnny can embrace a life beyond the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament. As Johnny would say, that's badass.

Cobra Kai season 5 premieres globally September 9, 2022 on Netflix.