Casting Jean-Claude Van Damme as Johnny Cage would let a Mortal Kombat sequel show a new side of the character and pay tribute to its genre’s past.
The 2021 Mortal Kombat movie ends with a tease for a second movie featuring fan-favorite character Johnny Cage. Fan speculation has abounded about who could play Cage, including names like WWE’s The Miz and Ryan Reynolds, but the best choice could be an unorthodox one: veteran action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Van Damme wouldn’t just be fun casting, but also allow for a new take on the character, and pay tribute to Mortal Kombat’s origins.
As portrayed in the Mortal Kombat games, Johnny Cage is an arrogant action movie star who takes part in the eponymous real-life martial arts tournament to prove that his skills aren’t all movie magic. Cage has real fighting skills but is often in over his head amidst the supernatural chaos of Mortal Kombat. Cage is frequently a figure of comic relief and has long been popular amongst fans. Many were surprised when Cage wasn’t in the new movie, but the filmmakers obviously saw him as a big part of a potential sequel, with Mortal Kombat 2021 ending on an Easter egg suggesting Cole would recruit Cage before the tournament.
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Jean-Claude Van Damme would certainly be an eye-catching and unusual move, with Van Damme mostly working on smaller projects recently, but he would be the perfect choice because of the action star’s link to the Mortal Kombat franchise. The first Mortal Kombat game was originally meant to be an action game with Van Damme as the star, but the actor had a pre-existing image rights deal with Sega. Creators Ed Boon and John Tobias created Johnny Cage as a replacement for Van Damme (hence the initials “JC”). Over time the character became an affectionate parody of the larger-than-life action star. Casting Van Damme as Cage in a possible Mortal Kombat sequel would be a way to bring the franchise full circle, realizing the vision that was impossible for the first game.
One seeming drawback would be that Van Damme, at 60, is a lot older than any version of Johnny Cage has been, but this could also be an asset to a potential Mortal Kombat sequel. Having Cage be an aging action star, desperately trying to hold onto his reputation, would be a new twist on the character that further highlights his comedic nature. Van Damme has shown that he’s not above self-parody in projects like Jean-Claude Van Johnson. Recent movies have managed to bring out new depths of old action icons, like Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren’s characters returning in the Creed movies, and Mortal Kombat could show a new side of Van Damme.
Casting Van Damme would also be a great nod to the history of martial arts on film. At its best, the new Mortal Kombat feels like a big-budget version of the type of action-first martial arts films that populated video rental shelves in the 1980s and ’90s, movies that often starred Van Damme and his unique fighting style and charisma. Including Van Damme in the franchise would be a way for Mortal Kombat to pay homage to its cinematic roots as well as its video game origins. There are clear comparisons that can be made between Mortal Kombat and Van Damme vehicles like the similarly tournament-based Bloodsport or fellow fighting-game adaptation Street Fighter.
All of these factors combine to make Jean-Claude Van Damme the ideal choice to play the role of Johnny Cage in a Mortal Kombat sequel. Of course, actual casting is complicated, and there are many reasons why Van Damme may not be interested or the producers may go in a different direction. Casting an actor of Van Damme’s age would also probably require jettisoning some aspects of the Mortal Kombat video game canon, such as Cage’s romantic relationship with Sonya Blade. But Van Damme would still be the most interesting, and most fitting, actor to play Johnny Cage.
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