Like Father, Like Child – 80’s Heroes Returning as Dads

Over the last decade or so we have seen a huge uptick in movie revivals. Not a reboot or a remake but long-delayed sequels. Often enough we see the return of our gallant heroes, wiser and stronger than before looking to tackle new challenges in their lives. But more recently we have seen an increase in a different role for these nostalgia-filled characters. That is to see them as failures. The 80’s revival phenomenon has been rife with it. The action movie hero moves away from being a simple depiction of American perfection and now they face the consequences of their past and their own actions. The examples that shine brightest in this regard are the recent return of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) in Cobra Kai and the boys of Wyld Stallyns (Alex Winters & Keanu Reeves) in Bill & Ted Face the Music.

Recently seeing its third season released on Netflix, Cobra Kai has been a hit for those fans of The Karate Kid as well as those looking for some easy watching. With brisk thirty-minute episodes, the show knows not to overstay its welcome and succeeds all the more for it as we see the relationships between old characters like Lawrence and Larusso duke it out with their competing dojos. The introduction of new recruits such as Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) and Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) also breathes new life as the next generation to train in Karate.

Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) face off in Robby's apartment
Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) face off in Robby’s apartment


What is immediately clear is that the father figure relationships in Cobra Kai are a huge part of what has gained its success. The show centres around Johnny Lawrence who was framed as the villain of The Karate Kid when it came out in 1984. He was the bully, picking on the new kid, fighting for the villainous Cobra Kai dojo who will do anything to win. But this is a different Johnny. When we meet Johnny he is a deadbeat Dad, struggling to keep a job and fighting teenagers in a parking lot. It isn’t until he brings back Cobra Kai dojo to help some downtrodden kids get into shape that he finally starts to regain some dignity.  This is where Johnny begins to fill the role of the father figure that he never rose to for his own son, Robby Keene. After defending Miguel Diaz in the parking lot from some school bullies, the pair form a friendship as Johnny begins to teach him the ways of Cobra Kai.

Seeing Johnny take on the role of Miguel’s father figure is almost a direct reflection on his own portrayal in The Karate Kid. Something that is abundantly clear is the lack of father figures in both Johnny Lawrence and Daniel Larusso’s lives. The two filled these relationship voids with their karate sensei to completely different effect. With Daniel, he learned from Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) who taught him about peace and mindfulness. Johnny on the other hand had the mentorship of John Kreese (Martin Kove) whose teachings were a complete contrast. Winning is the only option. How these young men grew up and were influenced by these father figures has shaped who they are in Cobra Kai and the actions they take through the series.

The figure of the disappointing father is not uncommon in the revival movies of late. From Balboa, the story of an underdog boxer who grows to become estranged from his son to A Good Day to Die Hard where the fourth instalment saw John McClane (Bruce Willis) team up with his estranged son, we have seen an alarming amount of our favourite American icons of an era becoming awful parents. Even someone as lovable as Han Solo (Harrison Ford) had a troublesome relationship with his son in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which had dire consequences. Why so many of these films feature troubled parental relationships could be for any number of reasons. Perhaps it’s a reflection on the filmmakers’ own relationship to these characters. A way to help us viewers relate to our heroes and see them less superhuman is to show them with real worldly relationships and even better, struggling with these relationships.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) and John McClane Jnr (Jai Courtney) team up in A Good Day to Die Hard

© 2012 – Twentieth Century Fox

This brings us on to the recent release of Bill & Ted Face The Music which sees the return of the aforementioned pair of rockers as they grapple with the expectation of saving the world with their music. In Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it was foretold that their band the ‘Wyld Stallyns’ would bring peace on earth and save humanity. That’s a lot of pressure on some teenagers from San Dimas. So when we rejoin them over thirty years later, it probably comes as no surprise to see that they haven’t quite lived up to expectations. We meet them as they perform all types of experimental music as a wedding band, struggling to figure out how to write the song that will save humanity.

The reason to highlight this particular movie is to show how it handles the father/daughter relationship that Bill & Ted share with their children, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine). In contrast to Johnny Lawrence’s relationship with his son in Cobra Kai – which shows his son, Robby (*Tanner Buchanan*), wanting little to do with Johnny, even going as far as to train with his dad’s closest rivals – Face the Music instead shows a very positive relationship. Thea and Billie are incredibly supportive of their fathers, despite their failure to live up to their potential; they push their Dads to keep trying and are fierce supporters of their efforts. It feels amazing to see a relationship between father and child be strong and supportive of their work rather than reviled or seen as a disappointment.

Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) meet with Kid Cudi thanks to time travel in Bill and Ted Face the Music.

United Artists Releasing

This leads to a much more satisfying conclusion when Bill & Ted have to step aside and be supportive of their own daughters’ talent and show the same support they were shown. The moment of realisation that it was the daughters, not the fathers, who were destined to unite the world is a beautiful human moment in a movie filled with time travel, killer robots and death playing bass. In moments like this Bill & Ted Face the Music shows why the film was such a perfect antidote to 2020’s endless barrage of sorrow. Showing that being excellent to one another can save the world. Party on dude!