Reviewed: Metal Gear Solid – The Movie

Sam Gurney has been wondering for a long time what a film of classic video game ‘Metal Gear Solid’ might be like. So things took a strange turn when, half-way through lamenting the lack of a game-to-film adaption in an article for Banner, the film was announced.

Below, Gurney imagines what the movie could, and might be like.


The scene

Present day, Oregon.

Grizzled, chain-smoking Special Forces vet, codename Solid Snake, is enduring his retirement in a pleasantly remote cabin in the wilderness.

It’s quiet. A little too quiet. The camera fixes on Snake’s brooding, weathered face.

Something is going to happen.


Suddenly: a fleet of military helicopters, rising over the mountains, to the sound of a cringey techno remix of The Ride of the Valkyries.

Colonel Roy Campbell, Snake’s old commander, has come to send him on one last job.

The pitch

A classic video game series with a devoted fanbase, a film based on the Metal Gear Solid franchise was always going to be a difficult sell. So the movie studio has said:

“This is a movie that will please fans and newbies alike – for those unfamiliar with the classic video game series, the best way we can describe the movie is this: it’s X-Men meets Apocalypse Now. You know, this will stretch beyond the hard core fan audience and into the realms of James Bond, or the Bourne movies. Action movie fans will love this movie. But so will thriller fans – no doubt about it. And there’s romance too, for you romance lovers. And even a bit of sci-fi, with some cloning, and some robots. Whatever you like, you’ll love this movie. Tell us! Go on, tell us – and we’ll tell you that you love Metal Gear Solid: The Movie.”

Hmm. But what about the nitty gritty? Well:

Snake’s old unit special services unit, FOXHOUND, are leading a terrorist uprising on a remote island in Alaska, the site of a nuclear weapons disposal facility, codenamed Shadow Moses.

Leading FOXHOUND is Liquid Snake, and he’s threatening the US government with a nuclear attack, should they not give in to his demand swithin 24 hours – which, rather unusually, is the remains of legendary mercenary, Big Boss.

Snake is tasked with gaining access to the facility and neutralising the threat from Liquid, while beating one member of FOXFOUND at a time. But it soon becomes apparent that there’s much more to Liquid’s plan that meets the eye…

The reality

Solid Snake's nemesis, Liquid Snake

Bond and Bourne are there, with the faintest dash of Michael Bay’s The Rock. As a concept, this film works – Bond-style hero from celebrated video game makes film debut. But even with the classic video game being such an immersive, cinematic experience, it’s still difficult to replicate this, on screen, as a thrilling story.

It’s a video game. There are flashes of political substance, sometimes even successfully bordering on sci-fi, paranoia plots – but the story itself yearns for a really stretched mystery, the kind you play yourself, as you wander through corridors looking for the next guard to dupe. Games are designed to twist and turn, because you’re supposed to play them for much longer than a film is supposed to last.

Not surprisingly, though the rendering of the original video game’s characters, especially compared with the need to condense a melodramatic plot, is one of the strongest parts of this odd adaptation. Snake is unlike most other ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ heroes – and that transfers to screen. As with game, so with film; he’s just as flawed, and even just as charismatic, as each of the FOXHOUND members he faces – whether that’s camp, gas-mask wearing physic, Psycho Mantis; the deadly and sexy female sniper, Sniper Wolf (catching a trend with the names, here?); or the revolver-wielding, Texan-sounding eccentric (you guessed it) Revolver Ocelot.

No single character is overshadowed by another. Friends and enemies from Snake’s past forge a gauntlet of chaos, and everybody double-crosses each other, keeping Snake between himself, and the truth behind his mission.

You can see that it hurts – but the remaining FOXHOUND team suffer as much as Snake. Take Sniper Wolf, born during the Iran-Iraq War and witness to one of the chemical attacks by Saddam Hussein – slavishly loyal to the shadowy, and expired, Big Boss, her sense of loyalty is admirable; even if her side is not. Her tense long-range, sniper stand-off with Snake leaves her mortally wounded, and eaten alive by her pack of Alaskan wolves.

But this is still a bit like watching somebody else play a slightly boring video game. As you might expect, there are some great action set pieces at the centre of the story, with the structure evidently being built around the physical and psychological battles for Snake, as he takes on each member of FOXHOUND’s elite in turn. But that is a video game structure. One of the earliest scenes in the film, showing Snake distracting some of the genetically-enhanced ‘Genome’ soldiers which guard the base by using tactically-placed porn magazines, is sure to delight fans. But is it material for a film?

Reel: Movie-style shots are much used in 1999's Metal Gear Solid video game

Final thoughts

Does this cross over? Metal Gear Solid: The Movie hovers precariously between being a clever political thriller and an intense action film – so much so you feel the need to furiously tap the ‘triangle’ button on your PlayStation controller, to get Snake back onto his feet. The hook for the video games has always been a unique approach to war – actively avoiding combat where possible, but this is certainly an aspect of the story that needed to be twisted into the clever action film this movie presents itself as.

It doesn’t quite come off. There’s a little too much ‘game’ in here, and the ‘movie’ bits aren’t quite as thoughtful as they should be, nor as frequent. Which is funny, because everybody who played Metal Gear Solid knows that it is one of the closest examples of a video game letting gamers play what feels like a film.

Maybe they should have left it alone. Pandering to the parasitic needs of what will be the minority of film-goers is rarely a good idea. Maybe, just maybe, in this case, it was just about a good idea. But maybe not.

Watch out for:

Snake-in-the-box: Solid Snake alludes a guard during Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater


– Snake, in true computer game fashion, being issued a silenced mega-lite 9mm with just a single clip of ammo during the opening scenes

– Wonderfully cinematic CQC (close quarters combat), based on the mechanics of the original game series, when Snake is forced with no other option but to cut throats

– Meryl, the film’s chief love interest, wiggling her supple booty while disguised as one of Liquid Snake’s guards

– The torture scene. Mimicking one of the most memorable moments from the computer game series, Liquid’s eccentric number two, Revolver Ocelot, strings up a naked Solid Snake, as played by the extremely well-endowed… well, that would be telling

– Classic video game sound effects in action, when Snake is discovered by a set of guards

– Gray Fox’s entrance. In another direct lift from the games, and one of the movies
spectacular scenes, one of FOXHOUND’s previously MIA members massacres an entire group of Genome soldiers in a corridor, with a samurai sword

– Gattling-gun-wielding, steroid abuser Vulcan Raven, driving a tank, which Snake has to stop, using only his wits and his 9mm

– Two ridiculous and brilliant, as well as obvious, video game references: Snake taking evasive action by running along underneath a cardboard box, and a shot of Meryl, captured, doing sit-ups (gratuitous nipple shot!)

– A post-credits scene with a superb twist – involving the insane and lovable Revolver Ocelot

Sam will be giving his thoughts on the highs and lows of video game-to-movie adaptations in issue 3. You can pre-order issue 3 here.


November 9, 2012


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