Ever since Metal Gear Solid relaunched the Metal Gear franchise back in 1998, fans have been clamouring for a big screen adaptation of Hideo Kojima’s iconic stealth video game series. They aren’t the only ones eager to see a Metal Gear Solid movie materialise: Sony Pictures Entertainment has been trying to get the project off the ground for over a decade now – and it looks like they might finally be ready to deliver. The script is done, Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is at the helm, and star Oscar Isaac recently signed on to play protagonist Solid Snake.
This should be good news; on paper, Vogt-Roberts flair for genre storytelling and Isaac’s acting chops coupled with Metal Gear’s enticing blend of action, espionage, sci-fi and philosophy has box office hit written all over it. But as Snake himself would attest, appearances can be deceiving, and while a Metal Gear Solid film is a genuinely great idea, it shouldn’t be live action – it should be animated.
What makes Metal Gear Solid a bad fit for live action?
If you’re a long-time Metal Gear Solid fan, your initial reaction is probably gonna be to dismiss this opinion as a laughable hot take. After all, how can one of the most cinematic video game series ever – a franchise that blurs the line between movies and games to a fault – not be a perfect fit for the silver screen? And what about Metal Gear Solid’s paranoid espionage plotting, memorable characters, distinctive visual style, and rich mythology – surely these elements would translate easily to film?
The answer to all of the above is “Yes”. Now stop, take a breath, and think, really think about the Metal Gear franchise. Chances are you’ll quickly arrive at the same conclusion I already have: that it’s utterly bonkers – too bonkers, in fact, for mainstream movie audiences.
I’m not just talking about the endearingly bizarre codenames sprinkled throughout Metal Gear Solid and its sequels, which crop up in dialogue without the slightest trace of irony (Solid Snake? Really?). I mean the stories themselves, which are crammed full of so many convoluted or downright insane narrative twists and turns, and so many OTT concepts – a limb graft resulting in quasi-demonic possession is my personal favourite – that nobody other than Metal Gear devotees is going to buy into.
Sure, you could point to the unprecedented critical and commercial success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as proof that casual moviegoers have developed a taste for silly sobriquets and outlandish plots. However, the MCU relies in part on a healthy dose of self-aware humour to get its more outrageous genre tropes across the line, something that a Metal Gear Solid adaptation wouldn’t be able to replicate while still remaining faithful to its source material.
So, a live action Metal Gear Solid flick is clearly less of an easy lay-up than fans (and Sony) seem to think. But an animated version? Now, that’s a different story entirely…
Metal Gear Solid – the greatest anime never made?
Funnily enough, all of the potential roadblocks facing a live action Metal Gear Solid film listed above would be an asset if it were an animated movie – or to be more specific, if it were an anime, thanks to the markedly different audience expectations at play. Crazy codenames? Part of the territory with anime. Mind-meltingly complex, borderline nonsensical plots filled with ludicrous concepts? These are often the hallmark of a great anime, as any connoisseur will tell you.
If you then add in how well Metal Gear Solid’s aesthetic would suit the “grown-up”, detailed visual style predominant in the art form – especially the franchise’s titular mecha war machines, which owe a huge debt to the likes of the Gundam series – and anime doesn’t just seem like the best way to make a satisfying Metal Gear Solid movie, it’s arguably the only way.
True, opting to go down the anime route rather than producing a live-action film does potentially shrink viewership (in the West, at least). But a Metal Gear Solid anime would almost certainly cost less than a big budget live-action feature, and anime is also an increasingly lucrative market – something Sony is keenly aware of, if its recent efforts to buy anime streaming platform Crunchyroll are anything to go by!
Then there’s the longer-term earnings potential to consider.
A video game-accurate live action take on Metal Gear Solid is likely to alienate the uninitiated, whereas a watered down version of the mythos will frustrate die hard fans. Either way, you’re left with a tentpole blockbuster at risk of fizzing out and killing a planned film franchise before it’s even properly started – which means no sequels and no future ticket sales or (even more importantly, these days) streaming revenue.
By contrast, an undiluted anime spin on Metal Gear Solid wouldn’t simply appeal to those who already love the games, but also to newcomers already well-versed in the storytelling quirks it shares with plenty of other beloved anime films and TV shows. With franchise veterans and newbies both catered to, follow-up instalments don’t just become inevitable – they start to look like a license to print money.
And if that’s not enough to make Sony consider reshuffling its existing plans for the Metal Gear Solid adaptation, nothing – not even Snake holding a silenced pistol to the studio bigwigs’ heads – ever will be.