The Karate Kid kicks back into theaters this weekend with some significant deviations from the 1984 original: It's set in China not California, the title character is African-American (Will Smith's son, Jaden), and it features kung fu, not karate. (Watch the trailer for The Karate Kid.) While purists are bemoaning these tweaks, the 2010 version, co-starring Jackie Chan, definitely has its defenders. The critics face off:
The Karate Kid exceeds expectations: "Here is a lovely and well-made film that stands on its own feet," says Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. Its rendering of the iconic match at the end of the film is "one of the better obligatory fight climaxes I've seen." The original is a fine movie, too, but, "That was then, this is now."
"The Karate Kid"
Chan adds depth to the mentor role: Chan will surprise you with "a performance of ... restraint and emotional depth," says Robert W. Butler in The Kansas City Star. His predecessor, Pat Morita, played the older mentor as "comic," but Chan delivers a "damaged man carrying some major baggage" in one of "the finest dramatic moments" of his career. It may even merit an Oscar nomination.
"The Karate Kid: A leg up on the original"
Skeptics will come around: This film offers "an experience to which all summer movies should aspire," says Todd Gilchrist in Cinematical. It manages to find "human truths" and "emotional conflicts" that aren't evident in the original. Those who harbor nostalgic-based objections to this remake should overcome them: "The Karate Kid has so much charm that you may find yourself cheering it on."
"Review: The Karate Kid"
"Where is the fun?" The main problem here lies in the lead character, Dre, says Kyle Smith in the New York Post. As portrayed by Smith, he "comes across as petulant, rude, and entitled." As a result, "you don’t exactly root for the bullies to stomp Dre, but nor are you overcome by outrage when they do."
"Honey, they junked the 'Kid'"
It's far too violent: In the original, rooted in the "innocence of the 1980s," a "bullied schoolboy found his feet and his focus." But this "millennial reboot," says Peter Howell in the Toronto Star, relies on a "large amount of violence practiced by and directed against kids." I wasn't sure "whether to cheer or to contact child-welfare authorities."
"The Karate Kid: No kidding around in violent remake"
Why mess with a good product? Efforts to freshen up the old story "make the new film worse," says Scott Tobias in The A.V. Club. The movie's best parts owe "more to the endurance of a good formula than its revitalization." Instead of dragging kids to see this version, "children of today should know the 1984 version exists and will make them happier. Perhaps their folks can dig up their VHS copy."
"The Karate Kid"