Shane Black has had an absolutely fascinating career. Exploding onto the scene right out of USC, he set records for the payments he got for scripts and changed cinema. His style was immediate and obvious and genius, merging tones like a master and throwing out chewy dialogue like it was no ones business. And this was all before Tarantino even exploded onto the scene. But after a a bunch of projects being mishandled, he dropped out of the limelight for a while. After a brief return, now as a director, he made a nice return but dropped away again before blowing back up with a pickup by Marvel. He’s now at a new high point in his career, with projects line up out the wazoo. It’s great for fans of his. With his new movie The Nice Guys (bought by the success at Marvel) coming out, it was time to make a list. You guys like lists right? So here’s a list of the movies he’s credited with. Even the ones he had problems with. But even with his issues, he’s got some great movies on his resume. And even the weakest of the bunch is still entertaining as shit. So take a look at the rankings and prepare for the newest entry in the Shane Black Buddy Film World.
8. The Long Kiss Goodnight – This is the ultimate piece of evidence that Blacks material is entirely dependent on the cast and the director of the thing. He’s a hell of a writer, but deals in such a difficult balancing act that even a slight disconnect from the material can cause the whole thing from crumbling down. Because Renny Harlin is very clearly not a man who can handle anything difficult. He’s very much a to the point, blunt force filmmaker with no sense of subtlety. I’ve enjoyed some of his work, like Nightmare On Elm Street 4 and Cliffhanger. And I won’t even say this is an unenjoyable movie. But it is the one movie with Blacks name on it that feels really bland and uninspired, thanks to the bland and uninspired direction of Harlin. The cast doesn’t really fit or do anything special with roles, something that shouldn’t be when Black is writing a script. He’s a man who could sneeze interesting characters out of him on accident. So the fact that Geena Davis or Sam Jackson don’t feel at home is odd. Especially Jackson, who can work with anyone. Blacks movie all have a sense of humor to them, a black hearted sense of glee while never sacrificing the stakes. Harlin shows he only understands adrenaline moments. There’s no wit evidence, blunted and whittled away due to the blockbuster process. It’s a shame, but still an overall entertaining experience at least once.
7. The Monster Squad – This movie is similar to 80s mainstay and cinematic cancer The Goonies. But because it has Shane Black involved, it is a much better movie than it’s far more popular cousin. Mainly because it isn’t shrill and obnoxious. It has a deep love for the subject it’s dealing in (old school monster movies) without ever dumbing things down to subhuman levels the way The Goonies did. It’s got the same sense of adventure and danger with kids that speak more adult than movies had usually portrayed before. It’s got a great sense of humor and some fantastic monster designs. It’s a little rickety and cheap in some respects, but it helps to add character in some regards. This doesn’t have the high level of ingenuity and originality that Black has shown in his other movies, but it is a fun movie for all ages. And it has aged much better than other movies of its ilk.
6. Last Action Hero – A much maligned movie that does not deserve its bad rep, this movie is way too smart and original to be ignored. Is it perfect? No. For a movie that sends up goofy R rated action movies, it is way too clean to hit the beats it wants too perfectly. Is it a little too aimless at points? Sure. And Black is one of many people to have a hand in this movie. But hey, he’s credited so I’ll put it on here. There’s plenty of his touches that can be seen in this movie. For it’s mix of buddy movie with The Purple Rose of Cairo and the gleeful way it sends up Hollywood, it will always have a place in my heart. And it’s got a damn funny and knowing Schwarzenneger performance, which is always a good thing.
5. The Last Boy Scout – This movie is an absolute delight. Just another rip roaring time at the movies with Shane Black continuing his obsession with buddy stories and conspiracy action pics. This time he takes it out of the cop picture and into the PI picture. For a man who was never afraid to get dirty and dark with his stories, this is maybe his darkest. For Bruce Willis may very well be his most broken individual to lead one of these movies. Joe Hallenback is a great character that is not a simple John McClane ripoff. And Damon Wayans gets one of the few good movie roles he’s had as a washed up football player. The action is great, the story is nice and twisty if a little bit silly at points. But most of all, it’s funny as sin. Until Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it’s the funniest movie in the Black oeuvre. And for Tony Scott, this is one of his best movies. A real knockout of a movie and one that just sings when you watch it.
4. Lethal Weapon 2 – If we got the version that Black actually wrote, with Riggs dying at the end, this would top the first one. But as is, what we got is an amazing movie nonetheless that moves things forward and further perfects what made the first one great. The characters feel alive and have progressed naturally since the first one, with the progression here feeling even more potent (even with the studio ending). The plot makes things much more difficult for our guys, making them navigate a real murky world of international politics while never seeming like they have jumped the shark. It’s an expertly crafted piece of action popcorn cinema.
3. Lethal Weapon – The movie that started it all. Blacks big entrance to the world with a record setting payment for this script, he made buddy cop movies a formula that would be emulated to this day. Shit, they’re making this property into a TV show. Watching this is like finding the rosetta stone for a good deal of cop narratives that came after it. It made Mel Gibson a Hollywood star after his stint as an icon in Australia in the Mad Max movies. It further proved that Donner is a direct of immense talent with an eye towards projects with some real punch to them. It was a real eye opener for the world, as it pioneered the buddy genre but also managed to be fun as hell yet also really dark at the same time. The tonal mish mash was handled extraordinarily, a real feat that no director other than Black himself was able to accomplish with one of Blacks scripts. A truly iconic and important movie on many levels, this is somehow not his best movie.
2. Iron Man 3 – In my humblest of opinions, this is the best movie Marvel has made. It is an absolute stunning piece of cinema, a big budget action extravaganza that has amazing character work that fits in with the evergrowing MCU while still having plenty of personality to stand apart from the pack. Not only is it a singular movie in the stable, it is one of the best blockbusters in the last 20 years and has one of the single best twists in blockbuster cinema. It’s not a twist for twist sake, it has a lot going on underneath it. It’s a twist that is so metatextual, a snipe at the MCU’s continued issue with having villains that barely (if at all) have any connections to their comic counterparts. It continues the Tony Stark descent into madness due to PTSD, an ever present problem with him that is continuing to the newest installment. His character growth has been the most interesting thing in the long form serialized storytelling of the MCU, and this chapter here is the most interesting segment of his life. But it’s also really fucking fun and funny and dangerous and filled to the brim with the buddy action conspiracy storytelling that Black loves. In this new segment of his career, taking the reins as a director, he managed to jump into the Studio game and keep his personality intact. That alone is a feat. But by making it so expertly and ingeniously, he managed to make a serious dent to his filmography, with only one movie being able to top it.
1. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Shane Black was gone from the industry for a long time, after too many regrets with the way his scripts were being handled. His return to the industry was as a writer/director, and he came back with a movie that seemed like it was a grand statement on everything he likes to do. It’s essentially the cinematic equivalent of a dimestore pulp murder novel, but with a winking tone to it that playfully works within and mocks the genre. The movie that is credited with helping to resurrect Downey’s career also has probably the last great performance by Val Kilmer, with these two men playing two guys that absolutely do not like each other. Even by the end of the movie, they still kinda don’t really like each other. But there’s a begrudging respect in some ways, which makes the whole thing even funnier. They don’t wanna be around each other, but they are and the results of the mismatched personalities is gold. It’s a twisty turny narrative that, like the movie sets out, feels like a dimestore narrative while taking the piss out of it. And for a man who always had a meta feel to his movies takes it to the extreme by having Downey narrate the movie but actually as if he was narrating a movie, complete with commentary about plot points and screwing up the narrative. The originality within the confines of well worn territory makes this movie an absolute masterpiece and proof positive that Black is a talent we should not take seriously. And it contains a scene that has made me laugh harder than any movie before or after. So, there’s that.