An illustration of Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid for an article about the video game potentially being turned into a movie. (Illustration by Sonja Vasiljeva, San Jose State University)
The sheer amount of side characters in the series makes "Game of Thrones" seem like a one-man show. (Illustration by Sonja Vasiljeva, San Jose State University)
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An illustration of Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid for an article about the video game potentially being turned into a movie. (Illustration by Sonja Vasiljeva, San Jose State University)
Despite the complexities of transforming video games into films, Jordan Vogt-Roberts is tackling an upcoming movie based on the series.

Spies, super-soldiers and cyborg ninjas: These are just a fraction of the elements found in the acclaimed video game series Metal Gear. Created in 1988 by Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear is a stealth and action series that achieved mainstream success when Metal Gear Solid was released in 1998 on the Sony PlayStation.

The franchise is famous for its iconic characters, excellent gameplay and complex storyline. With the amount of success the series has enjoyed over the years, it’s no surprise that there’s been plenty of interest in a big-screen adaptation. Unfortunately, the film has been stuck in development hell ever since Kojima first announced plans for its creation in 2006.

One of the biggest challenges when contemplating a movie based on Metal Gear is deciding where to begin. It’s a sprawling series that takes place in different time periods. Tonally, it is unlike anything seen on television, film or even other video games. While there are countless military games and movies in existence, Metal Gear’s fusion of realistic military espionage and surrealism sets the franchise apart from anything else in the genre.

The most popular game in the franchise, and the favored starting point for a film adaptation, is Metal Gear Solid. The game revolves around the creation and existence of bipedal, nuclear-armed tanks known as Metal Gear. You play as the protagonist named Solid Snake, a super soldier tasked with covertly infiltrating a nuclear weapons facility in Alaska.

After stealthily killing guards and squaring off against the iconic cyborg ninja known as Grey Fox, Snake comes face-to-face with the main antagonist: Liquid. Liquid is piloting Metal Gear Rex, the latest iteration of the bipedal, nuclear tank. By the end of the game, it’s revealed by Liquid that they are both clones created from the DNA of the legendary soldier known as Big Boss. This project, referred to in French as Les Enfants Terribles, was intended to produce covert super soldiers for the U.S. government. This revelation is only a partial truth, as the identity of a third clone is central to Metal Gear Solid 2’s plot.

Depending on the game, the series tends to jump back and forth in its timeline, which adds to the challenge of adapting it to film. For example, Metal Gear Solid 3 is a prequel that revolves around Big Boss during the Cold War. The game is narratively complex, filled with agents who become double-agents, only to later be outed as triple-agents. The heavy political and philosophical dialogue between the characters in this game make for an experience closer to a Tom Clancy novel than a typical video game.

The franchise’s reputation for touching on deep philosophical themes such as war, nuclear weapons and the military-industrial complex is certainly what makes Metal Gear ripe for a film adaption. However, from a narrative standpoint, crafting a movie that concisely tells a complete story without confusing the viewers or running too long remains the film’s biggest obstacle. The sheer amount of side characters in the series is enough to make “Game of Thrones” seem like a one-man show.

Since Kojima’s initial announcement of a movie adaptation in 2006, the film has been through the Hollywood ringer of contract negotiations, studio interference and budget concerns. For years there was no word on the film’s production status, leading many to believe that the project was doomed to stay on the shelf of some Hollywood executive’s office forever. However, in June of 2014, Sony Pictures announced that Jordan Vogt-Roberts was chosen to direct the film and would be writing the script with Kojima, much to the delight of hardcore fans of the series.

A relatively young director, Vogt-Roberts first achieved success with the indie film “Kings of Summer,” and is most well-known for directing the 2017 film “Kong: Skull Island.” Vogt-Roberts is reported to be a huge fan of the Metal Gear series and video games in general. Unfortunately, studio executives and even some fans remain skeptical as to whether adapting the franchise to film is even possible.

There are reasons to remain hopeful, though; Vogt-Roberts’ close relationship with Kojima bodes well for a faithful adaptation of the series. Too often, video game movies are butchered by directors who have little to no connection with the source material. This is not the case with Vogt-Roberts, who has stated to have been a fan of the franchise since childhood. Indeed, his passion for the series comes through as he commissioned multiple pieces of concept art out of his own pocket with the hopes of catching the eyes of studio executives.

While the depiction of Snake in some of the concept art pieces is amazing, it does little to quell the curiosity for those wondering who will play the real-life Solid Snake. Famous for his trademark bandana and cigarette, Snake’s rugged appearance has sparked debate among fans regarding who should play the iconic soldier. Interestingly, he gets his name and character design from Kurt Russell’s role as Snake Plissken in John Carpenter’s 1981 film, “Escape from New York.” While Kurt Russell might be a bit old to play a young Snake these days, he’d make an excellent choice for an older version of the character depicted in Metal Gear Solid 4.

After years of speculation, in December of 2020, it was finally announced that Oscar Isaac had been cast as the legendary soldier. Reception among fans has been mostly positive, as the actor’s appearance and versatility are perfect for the role. It wasn’t long before photoshopped images of Isaac as Snake began to appear all over the internet. At the very least, casting for the series’s most iconic character appears to have been done correctly.

Ultimately, despite the challenges posed by Metal Gear’s notoriously complex universe, fans of the series can be hopeful for director Vogt-Robert’s vision for the film. When asked about how he plans to engage with the franchise in an interview with Collider, Vogt-Roberts demonstrated a careful approach to the series, stating that he wants to “respect the sprawling nature of the franchise.”  He explained, “It’s almost impossible to tell just one story, because you need the full through-line of what this game is about, and there’s a pacifism and tortured nature to all these characters.”

Since the December announcement of Oscar Isaac as Solid Snake, there’s been no update as to the current status of the film’s production. Vogt-Roberts has revealed that a script has been written and turned in to studio executives, but no other news has been made available to the public. Fortunately, the film seems to be in good hands; in the meantime, a nearly 12-hour supercut of the game series that would make even Zack Snyder blush is available on YouTube for those brave enough to take the plunge.

Writer Profile

Justin Spencer

University of Texas at San Antonio
English

Justin Spencer is an Air Force veteran who after six years of service attended UTSA. He currently works as a warehouse manager and customer service representative for Pureline Nutrition, a Texas-based supplement company.

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