Metal Gear Solid: The Movie
Five Things That Need to Happen
The Metal Gear Solid movie, so far, has been a real “will it, won’t it” kind of affair. Originally announced back in 2006 by Hideo Kojima, the movie would focus around the original PlayStation game and everyone from Hugh Jackman to Christain Bale was rumoured to star as protagonist Solid Snake.
Fast forward four years, after all manner of delays, then producer Michael De Luca announced that the project was dead due to a lack of “coordinated will.” The movie adaptation was quickly forgotten and we all went about our business. That was until 2012 when it was revealed that not only was the movie back in production but that Avi Arad would be producing. Since then we have learnt that Jordan Vogt-Roberts will be directing with Jay Basu to pen the script.
So all the pieces are in place with pre-production underway, but we still have very little information about the plans for the movie. Where will it begin the long and convoluted story? Who, other than Snake and Big Boss, will be the main players? Will the movie itself follow the trend of previous game-to-film adaptations and be hopelessly terrible? You know what, I don’t think so.
It would seem, certainly after Vogt-Roberts’ lengthy chat with Hideo Kojima at E3, that the franchise is in good hands as the aforementioned director practically oozes enthusiasm and passion for the series. Plus being fresh off the back of Kong: Skull Island, we know that he can deliver the goods. And if his thorough vetting process to find a suitable writer is anything to go by, he is taking the project very seriously. I, for one, am very excited about the potential here.
After a collective sigh of relief, we can now speculate what exactly will go into the movie and how it will shape up.
With that in mind, here are five things that should be considered when making the Metal Gear Solid movie.
SPOILER ALERT – KEY EVENTS AND RELATIONSHIPS FROM THE GAMES WILL BE DISCUSSED HERE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
5. Make Metal Gear Solid, not Metal Gear.
From a purely chronological perspective, it would surely make sense to adapt the first game in the series, released originally for MSX in 1987. Even though Snake Eater, Peace Walkerand The Phantom Pain are all set prior to Metal Gear, the original game introduces the core protagonist, Solid Snake. Surely they should concentrate on introducing him as a young and inexperienced soldier whilst telling the story of his first encounter with villain Big Boss?
Nope, not at all. They should begin with Metal Gear Solid. The third entry in the series, released in 1998 for the Sony PlayStation, is essentially a jumping on point for new players. It depicts Solid Snake as a retired veteran, who has grown cynical and cold after the events of the first two games. Here we see him being thrown back into the mix as history seems to repeat itself for the third time where not everything is what it would seem. The story is full of twists and revelations but ties in events and themes from the previous games whilst seamlessly pointing to the future. In terms of storytelling, everything in the saga that has happened since (be it before or after in the chronology) has stemmed from this game. It is the perfect anchor for the saga and is the game that stands on its own the best.
This is exactly why they should focus with this game. It would help to introduce those unfamiliar with Solid Snake and his escapades and ease them into the crazy and unpredictable world of this political sci-fi thriller. Obviously, one of the main aims with any movie production is to make money. By adapting Metal Gear Solid they would be providing an insight into what happened before and ultimately where the series will go. This means the potential for multiple films, going in either direction in the saga’s timeline and fleshing out the overriding story on the big screen.
4. Show previous key events via flashbacks.
Let’s all be honest, as great as the Metal Gear franchise is, there has never been a series guilty of info dumping quite like this one and Metal Gear Solid is one of the main offenders in the saga.
To be fair, there is a lot of information that needs to be conveyed to the audience regarding the various character relationships from previous games that impact this one. We need to know how and why the relationship between Snake and Gray Fox completely imploded in Metal Gear 2 if we are to feel the eventual catharsis and sense of loss by the end of Metal Gear Solid. Unfortunately, this was achieved through lengthy cut scenes, many of which involved extensive dialogue. It goes against the golden rule of storytelling – show, don’t tell; something that must be adhered to in movies.
If Metal Gear Solid is to survive on the big screen, they will have to rethink the exposition and the most logical way to do this is by flashbacks. By doing this, they can build up a key scene through dialogue and then actually show us first hand how this has affected everyone involved and how that has led us to Shadow Moses.
A key example here is Gray Fox. When we first meet the mysterious ninja, we have no information about who he is or why he wants to fight Snake to the death. Bit by bit, we get hints to his identity, until Snake puts the pieces together and realises that this Ninja is Gray Fox, a man, once his friend, who he believed to be dead. After Fox makes his exit, Snake is given a moment to digest this revelation. At this point, we should be taken back to Metal Gear and shown how they first met and how Snake was in awe of him. That way we get the information that we need at this point to progress the story without the wordy dialogue.
But it shouldn’t just be Snake who gets these flashbacks. It is equally important to flesh out Liquid Snake, the villain and brother of our hero. Both had a murky relationship with Big Boss, their biological father and one of the overriding villains of the whole saga. Liquid reveals to Snake that he always despised Big Boss because he made him feel inferior, something that wasn’t shown until Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Here we witnessed Liquid, a child soldier, being roughed up and mocked by his father. Okay, technically Liquid started the fight, but did Big Boss really need to dislocate his shoulder after he was already disarmed? Excessive is putting it mildly. By showing this, we gain an insight into why Liquid is driven by so much hatred. Seeing both Snake and Liquid’s history and how it has shaped them is incredibly important, come the game's climax. This is information we need and this is how it should be conveyed.
3. Harry Gregson-Williams should compose the soundtrack.
Music has always been a key part in the Metal Gear franchise. Being one of the first games to take on movies as a way of cinematic storytelling, Metal Gear Solid’s score was extremely important. Like all great soundtracks, not only did it set the mood but added emphasis to key moments that really made us feel for the characters. I will never forget how the hairs on my neck stood up as Psycho Mantis’ unnerving theme echoed around my bedroom.
Harry Gregson-Williams managed to surpass this with his excellent soundtrack to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. From a purely musical standpoint, he managed to bring the franchise up to date with his compositions and turned the already catchy theme into a rousing powerhouse that made you feel like a hero every time you listened to it. It is a testament to his talent that his involvement has stretched to every subsequent game in the series.
It is entirely necessary, therefore, that he composes the score and while he should not be restricted in what he can or can’t do, I think it is very important that he takes pieces from the original soundtrack and rework them for the motion picture.
As previously mentioned, the game has some iconic and truly moving musical moments and it would be a shame for them to not have their moment in the movie. One that really stands out is the recurring piece that plays whenever the mood of the game takes a more sombre turn. Be it when Meryl has been shot and, bleeding out, tells a devastated Snake to leave her or in Gray Fox’s final moments when he finally makes peace with Snake and confesses his sins to him. Both scenes were already a monumental kick in the gut but that music really does makes the lower lip tremble.
2. Josh Holloway should play Snake/Liquid/Big Boss.
The question of who should play Snake in a movie dates back to the release of Metal Gear Solid in 1998. Before there was even any notion of a big screen adaptation, people loved to speculate who could play him. Fast forward to now and that question has never been more tantalising. The single most important thing to remember here, however, is that whoever is cast will not only be playing Snake, but Liquid and Big Boss as well. I mean, they are both clones of Big Boss and are often mistaken for the other but not only that, you play as the father in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and he is identical to Snake from Sons of Liberty. So it makes sense that one actor should play all three.
This means a large range of acting ability is required to pull this off. The charismatic, yet cold and cynical nature of Snake, the bitter and hate-fuelled vengeance of Liquid and the cruel, unforgiving malice of Big Boss. The look of Snake is an iconic one so it would also help if they physically resembled them too.
One actor, who wouldn’t necessarily be the first on some people’s minds, is Josh Holloway. If you take a look at the character of Sawyer in Lost, you can see that Holloway can portray all the required characteristics perfectly. The man just sweats charisma and brought that to the character in buckets, but there was always a deeper side to him, something dark and troubling. He had witnessed things as a child that had destroyed his innocence and shaped him into a man cynical on the outside but with immeasurable hatred flowing through him and when he snapped, it was a sight to behold. Even though he was a very likable character he could also be very cruel. Pretending to withhold a girl’s asthma medication during an attack just because he wanted to be hated or brutally crushing a frog in one hand simply because the sound it made irritated him. Though ultimately a “good guy”, it was troubling sometimes to see the full extent of his character.
All of these things are perfect when considering the roles here but not only that, the look and physicality of Josh Holloway is spot on for all three. Give him the iconic mullet, bandana and three-day stubble and you’ve got Solid Snake right there. Clean shaven, long blonde hair and trench coat, Liquid is in the bag. Put ten years on him, a full beard, slick back hair and eye patch and he IS Big Boss. I can’t count the number of times I examined the Ground Zeroes cover art and repeatedly said to myself “It’s Josh Holloway...” Funnily enough, back in 2012 when the movie was once again green-lit, a photo of Josh Holloway in Lost was used in an article that broke the news. Perhaps it would be somewhat fitting if he was cast in Metal Gear Solid.
The only question mark I can really think of is adopting an English accent for Liquid Snake. I’m not questioning Holloway’s credentials here, I’ve simply never heard him speak in any other accent than his instantly recognisable Southern twang. Bearing in mind, that when initially auditioning for Sawyer, he was apprehensive about delivering lines in said twang because he felt it could limit his chances of getting the role, something that was seen through instantly. Thankfully the producers of Lost weren’t as superficial as their Hollywood counterparts and encouraged Holloway to speak in his natural accent. That being said, even if the accent is difficult for him, there are always vocal coaches on hand and if the worst comes to the absolute worst, they can always get an English actor to dub his lines. In fact, just thinking about it, Michael Fassbender would be perfect for that.
I’m still sticking with Josh Holloway though.
1. Meryl should die.
Right, hear me out okay? I can see that a lot of you have already got your torches and pitchforks at the ready, but let’s seriously consider this before you burn me alive. This is going to be a long one, so hold onto your butts.
To really appreciate why this is a good decision you have to look at the character of Snake. At the beginning of Metal Gear Solid, the man is a loner. He has no emotional attachments, he trusts no one and prefers it that way. He has built up this hard exterior over the years because of his experiences, particularly seeing those he cares about get hurt and die. He never wants to feel that again and he pushes people away who get too close. The only reason Snake has anything resembling a friendship with Roy Campbell, his Commander, is because they have fought together for so long. The only thing he truly cares about is completing the mission and returning to his life of solitude.
Enter Meryl. Initially seen as a hostage that needs rescuing, Snake discovers that there is much more to her than that. She is a fighter with great spirit who strongly believes in right and wrong and wants to take on Liquid and his group of terrorists. There is also a vulnerability to her, seeing as she has never actually killed anyone in action. If she is to survive, she is going to have to come to terms with the reality of war and overcome her apprehensions. Snake recognises this and, in a sense, takes her under his wing, though begrudgingly at first. As the game progresses, this mentor/student dynamic becomes more personal and we begin to see something of a potential romance developing between them.
Heading towards the third act, Snake is captured and tortured. At this point, we are presented with a choice: we either fight our way through the pain, or we submit. Both choices have serious ramifications as submission will result in the second of two endings where Meryl dies.
But let’s talk about the happier of the two endings first. Before she is shot and captured, Snake begins to develop feelings for her and as a result she begins to work away at his cold exterior. Whether he wants to or not, he is opening up and reveals to her some of the darkness that haunts him. All she wants to do is comfort him and help him, but he resists. After Meryl has been captured guilt begins to set in and Snake blames himself, all the while trying to deny his feelings for her. Suddenly, this mission has become more than just stopping Liquid. It’s about Meryl and ultimately his own salvation on an emotional level.
When Snake finally defeats Liquid, the two are reunited and it’s a sudden explosion of romantic emotions. I’m not going to lie, I honestly thought they were going to do the deed on top of a ruined Metal Gear Rex.
That would have been…interesting.
Anyway, Snake has finally, and a bit suddenly, discovered that there is more to life than hiding away and burying the past. He has these brand new feelings and they are reciprocated by a Meryl who has been reduced to a damsel in distress. A far cry from the budding young warrior we ourselves grew attached to. The culmination of all of this is that, his mission completed, he can now live out the rest of his life with her; his cold exterior and cynicism lifted like a Beauty and the Beast curse. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very touching and rewarding but it is incredibly cheesy and all feels a bit...flat.
Now, let’s talk about the more downbeat ending.
First of all, something that I would like to address. The whole notion of female characters being nothing more than those in need of rescuing and only being present to serve as a romantic plot device for the male protagonist is a very tired one. Furthermore, and logically speaking, it does not fit the story of Metal Gear Solid or the character arc of Snake. So, with that in mind, if it were me making the movie, I would take out the romance entirely.
Let’s look back to Metal Gear and the dynamic between Snake and Gray Fox. One of his objectives is to find and rescue Gray Fox, who is MIA and presumably taken prisoner. Fox is the cool, collected veteran, something of a legend, and Snake is the rookie. He looks up to Fox and sees him as someone to strive to be. Ultimately, the two fight in Metal Gear 2 after Fox defects, leading to his “death.” This is something that haunts Snake, that he had to kill his closest friend. It is one of the key factors into his self-imposed exile.
Now, let’s return to the relationship between Snake and Meryl. She is being held prisoner and Snake rescues her. One of them is cool, collected and of legendary status. The other is a rookie and idolises the legend. Familiar, isn’t it? In a strange twist of fate, he has found himself in the same situation he was in in the original game but the roles are now reversed. Logically speaking, how would he see Meryl? He would see himself at that age and because of this, he would take her under his wing and guide her through the night. But surely he would need to develop romantic feelings towards her in order to open up? Not at all. He is mentoring a younger version of himself and being thrust into a situation where two people have to work together through a life and death scenario. If that doesn’t generate a certain degree of trust then I don’t know what does.
As the story goes on, he begins to feel something of a kinship with her and begins to let her in. She recognises that he isn’t quite the Joe Cool that he is making out and that he is troubled by his past. Wanting to help him, she encourages him to open up and he wants to push her away but it’s too late. Like an onion, his outer layer is peeling away and it’s all going to result in tears. All the while, he still realises that she is very much a rookie and that she will need his help to survive. Because of this he feels it his duty to protect her, much like an older brother would. The supposed death of Gray Fox is still very much on his mind though, considering he came face to face with him not long before. Because of this he battles with letting Meryl get too close all the while her survival is of great importance. He doesn’t want to relive the pain of loss again.
The guilt and pain at her capture is still something that would eat away at him. He took it upon himself to watch over her and he has failed to do that. Emotions he has not felt in years are resurfacing and, just like the romantic angle, the mission becomes a fight for her life and his soul. But at no point has there been any romance and there hasn’t needed to be.
We now move to the climax. Snake and Liquid have had their battle and Meryl lies there motionless. Snake runs over to her, cradling her, searching for life, but he is too late. Once again, a person he cared for greatly has died. With one heartbroken scream, he lets everything out. The rage and pain at her death, at Fox’s death, at every single reason he shut himself away. He let himself get close again, he let himself feel and he has been burned. This is where Otacon, an unlikely ally who was being held hostage by Liquid, is crucial. With the whole facility facing the threat of an air strike due to the Secretary of Defence wanting to sweep everything under the rug, Snake has given up and is resigned to dying. It is Otacon who gives Snake the push to continue fighting for his life and the pair make it out alive after one final confrontation with Liquid who. Just. Won’t. Die. Seriously, he has four death scenes in the game…
Once Liquid is well and truly dead, Snake and Otacon have time to collect their thoughts after what has been a pretty eventful day. Meryl’s death has made him realise that life is far too short to shut the world away and people with it. It’s a similar result to the super-happy-romantic ending but it’s far more believable. Someone has had to die to make Snake understand this, but not just anyone. A “combat buddy” as he puts it, someone he cared about who reminded him of himself at that age. After all, it could well have been him who died and he would have left the world as a bitter, old man. Once again, Otacon is crucial, as the friendship that blossoms between the two is Snake’s final redemption. His character arc becomes complete because of this unlikely scientist whom he grows to like, respect and, most importantly, trust. In the subsequent games, we see the two as brothers. Both would die for the other and they trust each other with their lives. A stark contrast to Snake at the beginning of Metal Gear Solid. This would never have been possible without Meryl, the camaraderie the two developed and the experiences they shared as Snake slowly opened up after years of hiding within himself. Her death cements this as it is a harsh reminder of how fleeting life is. A reminder that inspires Snake to realise the potential within himself, both as a soldier and as a human being.
And that is why Meryl should die in Metal Gear Solid.
And that was also five things that Jordan Vogt-Roberts shoulder consider when directing the much-anticipated big screen adaptation. Over to you, Jordan.