The Karate Kid (1984): Pure comfort food. I absolutely adore the original Karate Kid. It perfectly justifies Daniel's anger, exposes Mr. Miyagi's hidden pain, builds Johnny and his gang as thugs, and even takes some time to show Mrs. LaRusso's love for her son. It could absolutely do more with Ali, but what they do accomplish is showing Ali does not take anyone's shit. She slugs Johnny, pushes back on Daniel after he makes an ass of himself, and even lets her father have it. So there's something there, but it would have been great to get more of her peer group.
They also do a good job making the three "teenage" leads look and act like teenagers; Macchio was 23, Shue was 21, and Zabka was 19.
Rocky's fingerprints are all over this, too. Not just because it's a competition movie about an underdog overcoming impossible odds, but because it's directed by the same man who directed Rocky: John G. Avildsen. There are moments where Macchio has clearly been told to channel Stallone, specifically moments when he's talking to himself.
The Karate Kid Part II (1986): While I love the first, I adore the second even more. Unlike a lot of sequels in the 1980s, TKKP2 doesn't simply remake the original. Some of the same beats are hit, yes, but it's an entirely different movie. By setting it in Okinawa and making the plot about Mr. Miyagi's past, the creators are able to better flesh out the world and characters. We now know why Mr. Miyagi left for America, and the pain he carried with him. We also get to see Daniel valiantly attempt to assimilate to an unfamiliar culture all while still being the kid from Newark.
The stakes being raised adds a lot, as well. Six months prior Daniel was fighting to bush back on bullies. This time around it's quite literally for his life. And he is so ill-prepared.
Danny Kamekona as Sato is an amazing screen presence. He's filled with damaged honor, boiling rage, respect for traditions, and then an amazing face turn.
Worst part, though? Ali is completely thrown under the bus. So all the time and energy and emotion we invested in the Ali / Daniel relationship is given a thumb to the eye. It's rather petty.
The Karate Kid Part III (1989): Set roughly 18 months after the original, TKKP3 is technically set in late 1985. Five years on from the original, though, and you can see how much Macchio, then 28, had aged.
This is all kinds of not good. We went from an exceptionally intimidating performance by Martin Kove as Kreese to the aforementioned Danny Kamekona as the terrifying Sato to... this. Thomas Ian Griffith plays Terry Silver, a mega-rich war buddy of Kreese who quite literally cackles with evil glee, tells his staff his focus is set on "revenge," and brazenly dumps toxic waste because being a rich dickhead wasn't enough.
Instead of simply killing Daniel and Miyagi -- which is something this asshat would do -- he crafts an elaborate plan to split the two apart, only to have Daniel beaten while defending his title in the karate tournament. It's some Saturday-morning bullshit.
Also, Daniel's new female friend is threatened with gang rape. So that's fucking awful.
This one also throws another love interest under the bus. When Daniel and Mr. Miyagi return to the states, we learn Kumiko stayed in Okinawa because she got into a dance school. While it's handled better than the piss-poor treatment of Ali, it still feels a bit cynical.
The Next Karate Kid (1994): Much better than TKKP3, but it doesn't come close to the heights of the first two.
Here, Mr. Miyagi temporarily moves to Boston to mentor a war buddy's granddaughter. Hillary Swank does an admirable job playing a pissed off teenager girl. She's made at the world for taking her grandfather, as well as her parents. She hates everyone, and with good reason. Much like Daniel had to learn to control his anger, as well as his impatience, Swank's Julie is even angrier and impatient. If for nothing else, give this one a watch for her performance. And the monks. They're so cute.
Okay, that said, the ending is a mess. Everyone gets in on the action, but it's so unfocused.
And the whole reason Julie needs to learn to fight is so she's not dragged off and gang raped by a school-sanctioned posse of karate-loving punks. What is it with Three and Next when it comes to their female leads and rape?
The Karate Kid (2010): A very solid remake. While taking many elements from the original, this movie can be viewed as its own experience.
Jaden Smith's Dre Parker is absolutely charming. He's clearly his father's son, but Jaden has his own style and acting flourishes that shine through. He too is angry, but it's very much the anger of a child, rather than that of a teenager. That tiny difference very much sets Dre apart from Daniel and Julie.
Jackie Chan's Mr. Han is absolutely depressing. From the jump one can clearly see something is deeply broken in his soul. He looks so tired, as if death is late and he's angry about it. When we learn where his pain stems from, it breaks your heart. And Dre's reaction does a wonderful job demonstrating how much he has grown, as well as how much he loves Mr. Han.
At two hours twenty, it's longer than it needs to be, but still a movie that's worth a watch.