What screams America more than a man wearing red, white, and blue? Maybe someone wearing an eyepatch and a black stealth suit.
A superhero that stands out is Anthony and Joseph Russo’s version of Captain America, or who is usually called Steve Rogers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is the leader of the Avengers and the lawful good member of the team. Perhaps his finest film is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a story where a cyborg assassin is sent to take out our hero.
Wait a minute! This is same premise to a video game called Metal Gear Solid. Its protagonist, Solid Snake, has to fight a cyborg assassin and a secretive organization that may destroy the world. The premise alone sounds like a superhero movie in the works, but that is where the similarity ends. Thanks to the modern take of Captain America, we may be seeing cleverer commentary of how we see our own government.
MGS was developed by Konami, and much of the game’s narrative is meta commentary of international relations between America and Japan in the 90’s. The games evolved since then, and the franchise is a forerunner to the stealth genre. Unlike other games, Metal Gear Solid challenged players to avoid combat whenever possible and surprised audiences with 4th wall breaks and relevant themes of personal honor versus national duty.
The titular character Solid Snake is an American agent. He wears an eyepatch and tactical espionage suit in his game for maximum stealth. Unlike Captain America, his objective was to complete every mission while remaining unseen and neutralize weapons of mass destruction. Snake’s actions make him question his own morality throughout the game, yet he must finish his mission.
This is something that Captain America became. Captain America is someone who stands for personal honor rather than his country’s interests. Rather than be a patriot for his country, the superhero in question is a champion for honor. This is a big deal because the superhero became more than a national icon. He became an international one. Captain America is now more like a foreigner’s image of an American agent; an individual fighting someone else’s war and still holding onto his personal sense of honor. That isn’t a bad thing.
Art inspires art, so the saying goes. I see themes from Winter Solider that draw from the same vein as Metal Gear Solid (MGS for short). The video game revolves around an American agent who is an expert at close quarters combat and begins his adventure on board a ship controlled by Russian Pirates.
Does this sound familiar? That’s because this is the first ten minutes of Winter Soldier.
I couldn’t help but laugh at what I saw. As I watched Winter Soldier, the parallels were becoming more clear. One of the enemies in MGS is Raiden, an assassin nearly identical to the antagonist of Captain America. Both foes are employed by secret societies of corrupt government officials. Captain America is caught in a claustrophobic elevator fight like Snake does. Finally, the climax hinges on the hero disabling a superweapon that can kill millions of people.
I want to believe either Russo brother was a fan of the video game hit. Metal Gear Solid pushes the limits further to the kind of story a video game can tell. The MGS games have had international appeal for groundbreaking action and directorial choices that set it apart from any other game on the market.
At its heart, Metal Gear Solid revolves around themes of American espionage and counter-espionage. Anthony and Joseph Russo take those themes a step further. Their push Captain America to explore what he should fight for: America’s interests or his own sense of honor.
As the film reveals a conspiracy of wicked leaders to be pulling the strings, Steve is challenged against serving his country. That is what makes Captain America stand out from other superheroes in pop culture. He must answer that question we as the viewers must ask ourselves as well in a modern political landscape.
Captain America wasn’t meant to be an international icon. But the Russo brothers made him someone a non-American could respect. As someone from an Asian background, I could admire what this version of the superhero stood for: personal honor. Captain America stands for what he believes is right, not for his country. In The Winter Soldier, his beliefs aid him in fighting the enemy and saving countless lives. Because of that, he was able to right the wrongs and end the movie on a high note.
Once upon a time, a superhero could be someone just wearing spandex and a cape. Today it has to be someone that can reflect what we need. Today we needed someone to show us that we have to put personal honor on the line over national duty. Why? Because sometimes the right thing to do isn’t written in law. It’s made right by people who can keep their integrity in tough times. In the case of either Solid Snake or Steve Rogers, that is why they are such compelling heroes that wow audiences here and abroad. Remember that Metal Gear Solid began as a Japanese title. The themes within the MGS franchise reflect how we should take things in a broader perception rather than a national one.
Thanks to the Russos, we are closer to better improving our home for the sake of maintaining our honor. As Metal Gear Solid makes us see America from a Japanese developer’s perspective, Captain America makes us ask “do we value our honor over our country?”
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