Metal Gear is a really weird series. Its fans know it, people who have never played it know it, my family knows it after I tried to explain to them how Old Snake, Venom Snake, and Naked Snake aren’t the same person but look the same, and how there’s no Gaseous Snake even though there’s a Liquid Snake and a Solid Snake. It wouldn’t be surprising if that was a scrapped idea from Hideo Kojima though, considering what was left on the cutting room floor. And now they wanna make a movie out of this mess!
Technically we already have a Metal Gear movie, it was called Guns of the Patriots and it was marketed like the fourth game in the series, but now this series is finally getting the Hollywood treatment, and we have some thoughts on how director Jordan Vogt-Roberts should handle this legendary game.
Minor spoiler alert for Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
STAY AWAY FROM THE SEQUELS
To clarify, if this movie is good, we’re not saying we wouldn’t want a sequel, but every Metal Gear Solid game so far has been Hideo Kojima’s attempt at ending the series. His wanting to stop at every entry is part of what makes them so good, because they tell a complete story that isn’t focused on setting up for anything else (side note: yes, they do all have ridiculous sequel bait at the end but Kojima wanted the series to continue without him, any entry could still justifiably have been the final one).
People do often joke that the series is bogged down by sequel and prequel baggage, which it is, but that’s only because the writers keep having to justify and expand on plot points that were never meant to be elaborated upon. With the modern Hollywood landscape of constant sequel-baiting and setting up side-stories, the temptation must be there for Vogt-Roberts to start setting up plotlines like the La-Li-Lu-Le…ha, I mean Patriots, and the Philosophers, but there is no need. Treat it like a self-contained story, and it will be great. Assume this is the last shot, and go for broke!
CHANGE, TO STAY THE SAME
This is the part that is going to be the hardest to get right on screen; the gaminess, the interactive element. This concept is demonstrated best in the cutscene before you fight Liquid, when a really out-of-left-field first-person shot appears. You’re seeing what Snake sees, and though Liquid is talking to Snake, he’s actually addressing you. This is really important.
Liquid: “So why are you here then? Why do you continue to follow your orders while your superiors betray you? Why did you come here?”
Solid Snake: “…”
Liquid: “Well, I’ll tell you then. You enjoy all the killing, that’s why.”
Snake protests, but Liquid reminds you that you’ve already killed most of his comrades to get to him, and that’s true. You even kept going despite the fact that, story-wise, the last half of the game is incredibly frustrating. You have no idea why you’re doing anything, Campbell, who you’re supposed to trust, has done nothing but lie to you and keep secrets, and every enemy seems to know more than you. You are the only one out of the loop. You’ve killed plenty of soldiers to get to this point, and you enjoyed it, why else would you be playing the game if it wasn’t fun?
The Metal Gear series has always been obsessed with agency, calling attention to the fact that you’re having fun playing a piece of interactive entertainment. There is no way a film can replicate this. One of the core themes of Metal Gear as a pacifist, anti-war work, is how critical it is of partaking in and enjoying war games, trivialising the bloody, tragic conflict. A movie can’t really make you feel bad, because you didn’t do anything. Changing the theme of the story to focus on a passive experience will be challenging, as Snake would need to be rewritten to be a passive main character, someone observing the events and not taking decisive action, but also that’s kinda boring and this is an action movie. But what if…
What if Snake wasn’t the main character of the movie!? Hear us out, Meryl should actually be the main character. Granted, they did pull this trick already with Raiden in MGS2, (let’s not even go down the rabbit hole of how that game could possibly be adapted to a movie though) but doing it in this film could still produce a similarly great effect. Meryl, in the first MGS, glorifies Snake for being a “legendary soldier,” naïvely going off about how she wants to see “real action in the field”. In this way, Meryl could be a stand-in for the audience, who both want to see Solid Snake do something badass but, like in the game, the illusion comes undone by the end, and we are left with an optimistic, but bittersweet ending, wondering if we can still call our heroes – and especially Snake – ‘the good guys’. We can still have our sick, nasty, bombastic action sequences and cool fights, and be subtly critical of the Hollywood tendency to glorify Snake’s brand of violence.
While we’re talking about change, Metal Gear has always been critical of, and been influenced by, its contemporaries in gaming. Military sims like Battlefield, ARMA, and Call of Duty are staple series, and there’s no shortage of copycats too. So too will Metal Gear the movie have to address its cinematic contemporaries. We’re talking about the new war films. They may be subtler than The Green Berets and any Michael Bay film, but pro-capitalism, American imperialist propaganda films exist today, they’re just harder to spot amidst the onslaught of titles.
WAR IS HELL
At its heart, Metal Gear walks a very difficult line of being a decidedly very fun game about international espionage, killing, and war, while being an anti-war game at the same time.
Jordan Vogt-Roberts is pretty clearly a huge MGS nerd, you only need one look at his Twitter to tell you that, and so far, he is on the right track. He made a post about how “military-surrealism” is critical to the series’ appeal, so we know the weirdo storytelling isn’t going away, and Oscar Isaac was #1 on my personal wish list of Solid Snake actors, so it seems like a match made in Outer Heaven, but this series has seen disappointment before (I’m talking about MGS V: The Phantom Pain, it was a letdown). If the new film goes back to the original and focuses on making a tight Metal Gear Solid 1 film, it absolutely has the potential to be as amazing as its game counterpart.