In place of Cobra Kai, The Next Karate Kid introduces the Alpha Elite but the black-clad paramilitary thugs are a huge disappointment as villains.
Cobra Kai isn’t in The Karate Kid 4 and their replacement as the villains, the Alpha Elite, only makes the movie worse. Released in 1994, The Next Karate Kid is the third sequel to the original film that kicked off the franchise in 1984. However, this new chapter doesn’t star Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso; instead, The Next Karate Kid introduces future Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank as Julie Pierce, the new protege of Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita).
Set in Boston, The Next Karate Kid happens a decade after and is 3,000 miles removed from the events of Daniel-san’s Los Angeles-based Karate Kid trilogy. In this fourth tale in the saga, Mr. Miyagi leaves LaRusso behind and jumps coasts to receive an honor for his heroic military service during World War II. He then meets Julie, the granddaughter of his deceased Army commanding officer and friend, Lt. Jack Pierce, who Miyagi also taught karate to during the war. In turn, Jack taught his granddaughter Miyagi-Do karate when she was younger. It was this discovery that prompted Mr. Miyagi to continue Julie’s training in order to help her cope with her anger and grief at being orphaned after both of her parents were killed in a car accident.
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Of course, a Karate Kid has to have enemies to fight, but the Cobra Kai are nowhere to be found in The Next Karate Kid. This is because the dojo has been defunct for years after the events of The Karate Kid Part III, which was released in 1989 but was set in the fall of 1985 immediately after Daniel and Miyagi returned from their summer in Okinawa, as seen in The Karate Kid Part II. In Part III, Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) and John Kreese (Martin Kove) united to ruin LaRusso’s life and force him to defend his All Valley Karate Championship against their handpicked Cobra Kai protege, Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan). But not only did LaRusso defeat Barnes, but the Cobra Kai’s tactics were so reprehensible that the dojo received a lifetime ban from the All Valley Karate Tournament. Following this humiliation, the Cobra Kai dojo collapsed for the second time since Kreese’s disgrace the year prior in The Karate Kid. Cobra Kai would remain dormant until 2018 when Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) resurrected it as the dojo’s new sensei, which included Johnny getting Cobra Kai’s ban lifted.
In place of Cobra Kai, The Next Karate Kid introduced the Alpha Elite, an ROTC-like fraternity at Julie’s Boston high school, which was run by Col. Paul Dugan (Michael Ironside). Alpha Elite was what Julie’s alma mater is “known for,” according to Eric McGowen (Chris Conrad), Julie’s boyfriend who quit Alpha Elite despite Dugan being a fast-track to McGowen getting enrolled in the Air Force Academy. As a villain, Dugan is very much in the John Kreese mold: he’s a violent psychopath who manipulates teenagers to do his dirty work and further his twisted philosophy. However, Dugan also seems to inexplicably dominate the school principal and he has pull with the Boston Police.
The Alpha Elite wear black like the Cobra Kai, but they aren’t a karate troupe. Rather, they’re paramilitary wannabes who behave like thugs. As The Next Karate Kid‘s villains, the Alpha Elite is severely lacking and profoundly disappointing. Their structure and ultraviolent, overtly criminal acts don’t make sense and, since they’re not a karate dojo, Alpha Elite doesn’t provide a necessary counterbalance to Julie as the Karate Kid the way Cobra Kai does to Miyagi-Do karate. The Alpha Elite are also failures as characters; their leader, Ned Randall (Michael Cavalleri) is a sociopath who tries to physically assault Julie numerous times. The other members of Alpha Elite lack the charisma of Johnny’s Cobra Kai buddies, although a young Walton Goggins appears as Charlie, the only other Alpha Elite member who has a bit of character.
The lack of originality with which Julie and Miyagi defeat the Alpha Elite also doomed The Next Karate Kid to mediocrity. Julie defeats Ned in a fight far too easily since Randall, who is just a brawler, is completely outclassed by Miyagi’s protege, even after he resorts to blatant cheating. Miyagi then handily conquers Dugan in combat, humiliating him almost exactly the same way Miyagi humbled Kreese in The Karate Kid Part II. As a final act of copying, the Alpha Elite ultimately turn their backs on Dugan the way Johnny and his Cobra Kai generation rejected Kreese. While it makes sense Cobra Kai wouldn’t be in 1994 Boston, The Next Karate Kid utterly fails to create a worthy adversary for Julie and Mr. Miyagi and, instead, Alpha Elite is nowhere near the same league as Cobra Kai.
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