After fighting for his life in an Asian death pit, The Karate Kid, Part III deliberately lowers the stakes of the franchise and has Daniel LaRusso returning home to Receda, to be confronted by ... well, John Kreese again. Sort of. Kreese is still not over being humiliated by LaRusso at the All Valley, which actually makes sense when you consider that in Karate Kid time, the lapse between the first film and third film is only a few weeks. Having been financially ruined by the sudden departure of his Cobra Kai students, Kreese now reaches out to a man who may be the most ridiculous villain in the history of movies, corporate eco-terrorist and Cobra Kai financier Terry Silver, played by Thomas Ian Griffith. A despondent Kreese shows up on the doorstep of Silver's enormous mansion, and is welcomed with open arms. As they are talking, Silver's manservant interrupts with some routine papers. "Ten years ago nuclear was the preferred waste, you could dump it anywhere," Silver nostalgically sighs as he signs. "Now everybody's a detective!"
Because of some Vietnam debt he owes Kreese, Silver agrees to put his entire criminal empire on hold so that he can make enacting Kreese's revenge his only business -- he actually tells his secretary "for the next few weeks, my business is strictly revenge," which causes no reaction in her whatsoever. He puts Kreese on a plane to Tahiti and then sets about putting into action an elaborate two-part plan. The first part involves hiring a vicious karate champion named Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) to come to Receda and harass LaRusso into competing in the next All Valley tournament. For the second part, Silver will insert himself into LaRusso's life as a false Miyagi. The idea is that Daniel will become reliant on his teaching methods instead of Miyagi's, and Silver will be able to poison the champion's pure heart by teaching him dirty Cobra Kai tricks. By the time the tournament rolls around, LaRusso will be so screwed up in the head and poorly prepared that Barnes will cream him, and Kreese's revenge against this 17 year-old kid will be complete. Awesome.
The thing I like about Silver's plan is that it takes advantage of the fact that Daniel is undeniably dumb, which has been apparent since the first film. It's easy to believe he could fall for a plan like this, and that he wouldn't even catch on when Silver shows up out of nowhere not once, but twice to 'rescue' him from random attacks. Daniel just accepts that he suddenly has a new teacher and a new enemy. As he begins to spend more time in Silver's dojo learning (unbeknownst to him) Cobra Kai maneuvers, he's also being confronted by an increasingly agitated Mike Barnes, whose cover story is that he needs LaRusso to sign the application for the All Valley tournament, which LaRusso doesn't want to do. It has to be said that for Silver's plan to work, a) Silver would have to know in advance that Miyagi would decline to train Daniel to fight this latest adversary and b) Daniel would refuse to sign up for the latest All Valley. But let's not hold those flaws against the movie.
During most of these goings-on, Miyagi is so detached from the action that we can only assume he's hitting the booze again. When he does finally show up, right at the last possible moment when Silver has revealed his true evil identity to LaRusso, he's once again nigh-indestructible. He takes on Silver, Barnes and a freshly vacationed Kreese -- each of them decades younger, miles taller and presumably not unskilled -- without breaking a sweat. It's no more convincing than in the other two films, but what are you gonna do? There's one nice move where he sends the punk Barnes flying face-first into a light switch, causing an immediate dim in the room and sending the signal to Kreese and Silver that he means business. I think that's my favorite moment in Part III, but Miyagi's skills are unchallengable, so there's no sense of comeuppance after he schools the three bad guys. It's still about what Daniel can do, and a brief double training montage later -- Kreese and Silver training Barnes and Miyagi training Daniel -- we're ready for a finale at the All Valley.
There are two things I like about the finale. First, I like the fact that Barnes only loses a point for walking up and punching Daniel in the face between rounds. The other thing I like is the weird overtones of an attempted resurrection of the Cobra Kai. Whenever Kai names are announced, they are roundly booed, but there's also some faint applause and support in the crowd -- stirrings of hope. There's a hilarious little moment when we see a guy peddling Cobra Kai t-shirts to the spectators, and a couple of young kids are seen grabbing for them Throughout the film, whenever Mike Barnes would show up to harass Daniel, he would have a couple of Kai types with him, but one of them is out of shape and seemingly retarded, which I guess is a metaphor for how far the mighty Kai have fallen. What's at stake in the finale isn't really Daniel's reputation, in my opinion, but the continued viability of the Cobra Kai franchise. That said, how great is it that after Daniel wins, someone throws a Cobra Kai shirt at Kreese's head?
I didn't mention the love interest in this film because there isn't one -- as far as I know, the producers hired 17 year-old actress (Robyn Lively) to fill the role of Jessica and then realized that it might not be such a good idea to have her shacking up with Ralph Macchio, who was practically in AARP by the time the third film rolled around, even though his character was still 17. Instead of a romance, Daniel and Jessica embark on a sexless friendship based on their mutual interest in pottery and bonzai trees. I guess it's appropriately weird, since the Daniel we've come to know over three films is an odd duck in the first place. Both girlfriends, from the first film and the second, left him abruptly between films for suspicious reasons, and he's never seen to make any friends or socialize with anyone other than an old ninja. By the time Part III is over, his story is more than concluded and you would have expected the series to end there. But oh, no ... there's still more to come.
Coming tomorrow: Boys, don't cry, but we're going to tackle the final entry ...