Sunday, 4 August 2013

Screenwriters: Shane Black & Iron Man 3

It's a bit late to comment on this particular summer blockbuster, but it's too good a film to be allowed to slip away unremarked.

I'm not a huge fan of comic book adaptations, so I sank into my seat at Iron Man 3 without high expectations. I had no idea who'd written the film, because the credits were lurking at the end of the picture. But by the time Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) advises a young boy who has been abandoned by his father, "Don't be a pussy. Fathers leave. Get over it," I knew I was in the hands of a master screenwriter.

And from there the movie gets even better. Certainly it delivered on the action set-piece front, but it was also wildly funny. Notably in the confrontation with Ben Kingsley, who plays master villain the Mandarin (renamed "the Man Darin" in the Chinese release print so as not to offend local audiences). The Kingsley sequences are priceless, but I can't tell you more without giving the game away.

Iron Man 3 is a little too long, and a little too laden with action, as is the wont of these blockbusters, but it's also terrific fun and one of the best films of the summer.

And the reason why was revealed at the end, when it turned out to be written by Shane Black (in collaboration with Drew Pearce). It was also directed by Mr Black.

Shane Black is one of the best writers in Hollywood. Originally an actor, he turned to screenplays with huge success, earning millions for scripts like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout. But if you want to check out his work I recommend The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which he also directed).

Besides his Chandleresque sensibility (as evidenced by the title of Long Kiss), Shane Black's trademarks are great dialogue, violent action, strong characterisation, wild humour and truly creative use of profanity. On the subject of  great dialogue — and profanity — in the Long Kiss Goodnight the private eye Mitch (Samuel L. Jackson) chides the foul mouthed heroine Samantha (Geena Davis) on her sudden penchant for swearing: 'When we first met, you were all like "Oh phooey, I burned the darn muffins." Now, you go into a bar, ten minutes later, sailors come runnin' out."

Or this exchange, from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang where our hero small time crook Harry meets homosexual LA private detective Gay Perry (Val Kilmer). Harry: "You still gay?" Gay Perry: "No, I'm hip-deep in pussy. I just liked the name so much I couldn't change it."

It's worth catching Iron Man 3 on the big screen. It's one of the few recent 3D pictures where the gimmick was effective. But even on DVD or Blu-ray, the excellent and often hilarious writing will shine through.

(Proud personal footnote. The Iron Man suit was co-built by my buddy FX wizard Lindsay MacGowan, with whom I worked on Doctor Who, back in the day.)

(Image credits: The poster featuring Downey and Paltrow is from GeekRest. The Paltrow poster is from the LA Times Hero Complex. The Ben Kingsley posters is from Flicks And Bits. The Long Kiss Goodnight is from DVD Release Dates. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is from Imp Awards. The photograph of Downey and the suit is from Buzz Feed.)

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