ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Mortal Kombat Legends: Cage Match writer Jeremy Adams about the animated action movie. The writer discussed the appeal of Johnny Cage and the ’80s influence of the latest Mortal Kombat film. The movie is set to release on Blu-ray and 4K UHD on Tuesday, October 17.
“Action superstar Johnny Cage squares off against a sinister secret society that’s plotting a nefarious scheme,” reads the movie‘s synopsis. “However, the brutal fight against the bloodthirsty warriors of the Netherrealm is just the beginning.”
Tyler Treese: Johnny Cage is such an interesting choice for a protagonist since he is one of the most iconic characters, but there’s a danger there. Spending too much time with him could see the shtick grow old. How hard is doing that balancing act of his full-of-himself attitude, but not making it overbearing?
Jeremy Adams: I mean, it’s a balancing act. It comes down to the fact that we set out to make a story about Johnny Cage in his purest form, right? So I think later on in the Mortal Kombat franchise, he has some maturity, but this is not one of those moments. [Laughs]. He still has an innate sense of good and is like, “Hey, I’m going to stand up.” But it’s couched his ego.
So it is a hard thing, to make sure the shtick doesn’t wear it thin, but I think back to some of my favorite movies to me, which are like Big Trouble in Little China, where you have a character that has a lot of ego and hubris. How does that work? Some of it is just to keep putting him in peculiar and uncomfortable situations. As long as the situations are really dynamic or interesting, then seeing how he reacts doesn’t necessarily get tiresome. Once you have people that are like the quote-unquote straight man, like Ashrah and his assistant, who provide some of that back-and-forth, that allows you to take a rest on the shtick, I guess.
We get to see some layers to Johnny Cage here. I really like the voiceover as a narrative device. We even see some self-doubt from Johnny Cage, even if just for a moment. I thought the anti-bullying stuff was a fun touch. What was it like to add these layers and really engage with the character?
With the anti-bullying, the reality is that Johnny’s real name in the continuity is Jonathan Carlton or something. Carlton is my middle name, so I feel an affinity for him. So a lot of that bullying stuff was just essentially a biopic. That was what happened to me. I was mercilessly bullied in junior high by three particular people, and it was brutal. My mom eventually took me to a martial arts studio, and that kind of changed my life. So there’s a moment when you’re writing something that you could marry some of yourself into it as long as it sits, as long as it works within the established continuity of Mortal Kombat, and it did. So I got to write from a real honest place in that moment.
Being able to touch on it is really great because I would always see these … they used to have a PSA that used to say, “It gets better, it gets better,” and it kept telling people that were bullied and people that were maligned early on that it gets better. And I was of the opinion that it gets better when you know how to punch someone in the nose. [Laughs]. It wasn’t even that I knew I could actually do it. It was just the confidence to not be a victim. So with Johnny, you give that to somebody like Johnny and it gets a little out of control because he has talent and then he goes into Hollywood and you feed his ego and he’s like, “Oh, you’re special. You’re special.” Everybody’s telling him special. By the end of this movie, you realize he is special. I don’t know if it helps him. [Laughs]. But it’s definitely interesting to see that he still has this innate sense of good and good willingness to help others.
We have a great voice cast as always here. Talk me through getting Jennifer Grey to play herself. How was finding the right self-insert for her?
That was really interesting because Rick [Morales] and I were talking about it and we wanted … I don’t know what happened, but I think I called him and was just like, “I have this really bizarro idea and this is going to be the meta moment of this movie, that there’s an actress that plays herself, but is in fact something else.” When we heard we got Jennifer Grey, she was an unbelievable sport, but to be honest, it was super surreal for somebody like me to sit there and watch somebody that has been in Red Dawn and Ferris Bueller and Dirty Dancing and stuff, and just sit there and kind of go, “How is that word I wrote?” [Laughs]. It was a very weird thing. Then Rick had drawn her and she had the haircut and she looked like she did in 1984 and it was just surreal, you know?
It’s a great feeling and it’s surreal. For us, we’ve worked with Joel McHale now in two prior Moral Kombat movies. After the first movie, Scorpion’s Revenge, all I could hear when anybody said Johnny Cage was Joel McHale’s voice. That’s still the case. I don’t think it’ll ever be drowned out of my head. So it becomes much easier for me to write to, and trust me, if I write something that’s not in line with Johnny Cage, Joel will tell us. [Laughs]. And he did so many ad-libs and so much improv.
You’ve worked on all these different Moral Kombat movies. Was Johnny Cage always someone you wanted to make a solo film about in the future? Or did it come about because of McHale’s performance?
After we had done the first two, we did not think we were going to get to do any more, but they were very successful. Then we got a call and said, “Hey, we want to do some more, but we want them to be totally different.” So I had come up with like six ideas and sent them over, and this was one of them and it exactly what you said. His voice for Johnny is so strong that it just tends to spark ideas. I have always been desperate to do a kind of Shane Black movie that takes place in the ’80s in Los Angeles during Christmas, and it has all those kind of trappings and tropes of that genre. But to have somebody who’s as talented as Joel McHale voice that character and the character that we kind of know and put him in these weird situations … it all seemed to make sense.
It was the one of the six I desperately wanted to do, but it was also the one that the person in charge didn’t want to do. [Laughs]. But I convinced them to keep it on the list. Then, some other people up the ladder said they wanted to do it, and I was like, “I’m winning.” [Laughs]. So I felt very thrilled that we got it through and it was one of those moves where kept thinking they were going to stop us because it’s so peculiar and it’s so different and it’s so out of left field. I kept thinking, “Oh, they’re going to stop us,” but they didn’t. [Laughs]
I love the ’80s aesthetic to the movie. How fun was it to pay homage to those ’80s action flicks that are so beloved?
I mean, it’s my lifeblood. It was the thing that I grew up desperate to watch all the time. Then you have somebody like Ethan [Spaulding], who’s the director, and then Rick, and we’re both of the same mind. I think when I went in Ethan’s office once during the first two movies, I saw he had a Japanese poster for Steven Segal’s Out for Justice, which is the best Segal movie. [Laughs]. I remember going “Oh, he’s my people!” [Laughs].
It’s one thing to write a bunch of stuff down, but then to see it translated and the storyboard where Ethan and Rick just went to town and made it pop with those colors and pastels and music and they just really … I feel like we were all on the same vibe of what this needed to be. It was just such a great collaboration. I love those guys to death and everybody that worked on those things.
There’s a really deep pull here. The, the epilogue shows that this is secretly a mocap origin story. That’s so funny. Where did that idea come from? That was genius. That blew me away.
[Laughs]. Well, usually when I do these Moral Kombat movies, I’m going deep into the lore and, a lot of times, I’ll just try to figure out who could this person be or what are the Easter eggs we can add? We thought, “Man, they never really … they haven’t really done a lot with Mokap because he was kind of a joke in the video game.” And we’re like, “This will be hilarious if this is the Easter egg, if you follow this guy.” And it makes perfect sense that this guy would become this “Johnny Cage lite.” [Laughs]. It just seemed like it had to happen, more than anything.