The Mortal Kombat character Johnny Cage is very heavily inspired by real-world action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, to the extent that Cage's original appearance is basically a direct lift from the seminal JCVD flick Bloodsport. It took more than 30 years, but now the Mortal Kombat universe finally has the real deal: The Muscles from Brussels will be available as an optional skin for Johnny Cage in the upcoming Mortal Kombat 1.
Van Damme's appearance in Mortal Kombat 1 was revealed—of course—in a wildly violent trailer that concludes with a gratuitously brutal fatality that sees Johnny Cage go for a ride in one of JCVD's expensive European sports cars. (Most of him, anyway.) It's fairly typical Mortal Kombat fare, and almost restrained compared to some of the finishers we've seen over the years.
What I really like about the trailer, though, is the way Van Damme rolls with the inherent absurdity of the whole thing. Johnny Cage has always been played for laughs more overtly than other members of the MK cast, mainly because of the nature of the character: A fading Hollywood hero who's so desperate to reverse his fortunes that he joins a to-the-death fighting tournament that he clearly has no business being in.
Thin-skinned movie stars might not find the portrayal entirely flattering—Cage is definitely what you could call the Komic relief—but Van Damme seems to embrace it. At the very least, he's willing to go along with it: He even emulates Johnny Cage's funniest moment from the brilliant "Old Skool vs New Skool" Mortal Kombat 11 trailer.
Interesting side note: Mortal Kombat was originally envisioned as a gritty take on Street Fighter starring Van Damme as the central character. When that fell through—Van Damme was just coming into the peak of his power at that time, and probably had neither time for nor interest in trifling with a videogame—the design evolved into the game as we know it today.
"Our original intention was to make Van Damme: The Arcade Game," Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon said in a recent episode of Hot Ones. "Bloodsport was big, and Universal Soldier. So we called his people, and we're like, 'We want to make a game based on Van Damme,' and I don't know if he declined or it just never got to him or something like that, but—again, this is a couple of 20-something-year-old kids wanting to make a videogame—I can see how Van Damme would go, 'No, no, we're not doing this'.
"We tried a number of times going back and forth with him. This time, we hit the lottery, and we got him. We actually have his voice, he's going to be the Johnny Cage character, and it is the absolute full-circle moment."
Jean-Claude Van Damme will be available as a skin for Johnny Cage as part of the Kombat Pack, which also offers early access to six DLC characters (Quan Chi, Ermac, Takeda Takahashi, Peacemaker, Omni-Man, and Homelander) and five new Kameo Fighters, all of which will be released post launch. Van Damme isn't the only big name coming to the game—JK Simmons and Megan Fox are also on board—but he has the unique distinction of being the only one appearing as himself. It's about time.