Urged to defend his title by nefarious milionaire Terry Silver (Griffith), Daniel (Macchio) puts his talent in the hands of an even-shadier new trainer. Can the ever-moralising Mr. Miyagi (Morita) win his boy back to the humble-yet-dull life of bonsai cultivation?
"This is the 80s - you gotta do something! You can't be so passive!" says Daniel LaRusso to Mr Miyagi and the scene is set for confrontation in the pair's relationship. Avildsen's third outing as Karate Kid director finds his boys back in the U.S. trying to build a bonsai shop out of a ramshackle hut that Daniel's bought with his college money. (Kid fans will recall he also used his college money in the last one to fly to Okinawa American colleges must be very expensive.)
Daniel's having the emotional and physical screws put on him to defend his Hill Valley karate title. He wants to do it. Miyagi doesn't want him to do it, and refuses to train him when under duress Daniel signs the entrance form. The characters putting the pressure on our diminutive hero are working for slippery millionaire Terry Silver and our old mate Kreese (Martin Kove) now down and out after his Cobra team's defeat in the first film. While Kreese suns himself in Tahiti at Silver's expense, his pony-tailed Vietnam buddy sets about driving a wedge between Daniel and Miyagi, eventually becoming Daniel's trainer. These are some of the film's best scenes as Daniel's innate sense of good is eroded by the Satanic Silver. (He only corrupts young kids as a hobby, he disposes of nuclear waste for a living.) It would, of course, have been preferable if they'd found something more interesting to come between Daniel and Miyagi than the ethics of another Karate tournament. But there are formulas to be fulfilled, and as they go, this still isn't a bad one. The fight scenes (there are more of them this time) are uniformly excellent, Pat Morita continues to delight as Miyagi, and Daniel seems like a second skin to Ralph Maccio at once petulant and remorseful.
But there's nothing here to match the depth of the second film, and unless they're prepared to be more adventurous with the characters, it's hard to see where the series goes from here.
Morita still charms, Macchio still tightropes between petulence and raw optimism, whilst the fight scenes are competent enough to offset the woeful romantic sub-plotting.