After playing Mortal Kombat's wise-cracking martial arts superstar Johnny Cage in two previous animated movies, Joel McHale is back to reprise the role for an even bigger spotlight in Mortal Kombat Legends: Cage Match. Out on home video this October, Cage Match is set at the neon-lit pinnacle of '80s glitz and glamor as movie star Johnny Cage finds himself roped into the machinations of a sinister cult in the City of Angels. Realizing the adventure extends deep into Hollywood, Johnny has to discover his inner hero if he hopes to stay alive and save the day, with no stunt doubles to back him up.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Mortal Kombat Legends: Cage Match star Joel McHale talked about getting the chance to play Johnny Cage again, shared his history with the Mortal Kombat franchise, and explained the joys of embracing '80s action tropes for the film.
CBR: Joel, it's been a minute since you got to play Johnny Cage. How was it coming back to the character and going full Miami Vice with it this time around?
Joel McHale: I know you hear this from actors all the time, but it was really fun! They let me improvise a bunch and let me make a bunch of '80s references. I know there are already so many in the movie because it takes place in the '80s, but I was able to tap into my '80s childhood, just throwing out, "Weevils wobble, but they don't fall down!"
I don't know if they included that, but I'm sure it's annoying to the producers because I don't stop talking. It was really fun, and they were so nice to let it fly and try different stuff. I love the look of the movie, and when they said they were going to do a Johnny Cage movie, I said, "I'll be there in a heartbeat!"
With all the neon and suits with shoulder pads, what do you think it is about the '80s that speaks so well to trashy popcorn action?
Well, that's where a lot of it was born. It was such an interesting time in the film business, especially after the '70s. You've got Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Kurt Russell, and Carl Weathers. It really was over the top. '80s art was incredibly splashy, with bright colors and pastels. Miami Vice really put this culture on the map. They really steered into that look, and I think games like Grand Theft Auto also brought back that stuff. I think a lot of that stuff was seen as okay, but like, "Who wants these bright colors and pastels?"
Now, it's looked back on as beautiful, and I agree! You look at old malls, the way they were set up, it's so unique to that time. Endlessly, I found that really cool, and they really steered into it while not compromising on any action, and of course, they let me swear a lot, which I love. I wasn't allowed to [before].
The last time you were Johnny Cage, he was fully formed. This time around it's an origin story, like Johnny Cage Begins. How did you want to approach the performance with that in mind?
It's before anything happened, and boy, I hope they do another one! It was like this new sandbox of stuff to mess around with. With these movies, I think it would be easy to get lost in the over-the-top violence and such distinct characters, but they tell a really good story. I think the story hums along really well while I get to tell a thousand jokes. They very nicely made it into a comedy. I steered into the comedy, and I must've gone over eight hours in the booth, and they had to pay for that. For that, I apologize, but I will not give that money back.
Mortal Kombat has been around since 1992. How is it being a part of this franchise for three animated movies?
I was in high school and entered college. On University Ave., outside of the University of Washington, there were three different arcades, and they all had it. I dumped so much money into that thing. It was so fun. With that in mind, how is it getting to be a part of this franchise? I can't believe it. I can't believe I'm part of it. When the offer came in to play Johnny Cage, my agent was like, "Is this something you want to do?" I was like, "Yes! Absolutely! 1000 times!"
When I tell people that I'm Johnny Cage, they're like, "That's the coolest thing that I've ever heard." My kids make fun of me about everything, but I even told them, and they were like, "Huh. Cool." I was like, "That is a ringing endorsement from my boys." I should walk around with a shirt that says, "I am the voice of Johnny Cage." I can't believe it, and I really like these movies because they're [for] adults and for young adults. They don't pull punches on the violence or dialog. I really appreciated that part!
Directed by Ethan Spaulding, produced by Rick Morales, and written by Jeremy Adams, Mortal Kombat Legends: Cage Match will be released on Oct. 17 for 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and digital HD.