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One of the more bizarre patterns spotted in writer/director Shane Black’s filmography is the number of films that begin with the letter “L.” Since kicking off his career in 1987, four of the seven movies he’s written and/or directed have started the same way, previously making Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero and Long Kiss Goodnight. Unfortunately, Black’s latest film Iron Man 3 doesn’t fit the alphabetical requirement, but it really doesn’t matter when you consider that the writer/director left his calling cards all over the rest of the movie.

From the time of year that the superhero flick is set to the whip-smart dialogue to the genre and pacing, the latest Marvel Studios title is unquestionably a movie straight from the mind of its director. But how exactly does the movie fall in line with the rest of Black’s work? Read on to find out!

Merry Christmas!
Do you know why Die Hard was set at Christmas? Because producer Joel Silver saw how well the holiday worked as a backdrop for an action movie while working on Lethal Weapon and wanted to reuse the motif. And, as I’ve written extensively about before, the holiday season has followed Black his entire career. Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, Long Kiss Goodnight, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (his directorial debut), were all set during Christmas, and now Iron Man 3 has joined the group.

And it’s not just the fact that the superhero movie is set during the holidays, but the say in which the season affects the characters and the story. From Mel Gibson's Martin Riggs to Bruce Willis' Joe Hallenbeck, Black likes to write about lonely characters, and it’s not hard to see why that would be highlighted at Christmas. In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is surrounded by people, but also completely isolated within himself due to the trauma experienced during the Battle of New York. But Black’s films are certainly not without their warmth as well, which leads me to my next point…

You Can Tolerate The Kid Characters
Kids and Christmas are two elements that regularly go hand in hand in Hollywood and Black’s films are no exception. But as every movie-watcher knows, working with children characters is often a dangerous path to tread down. Sometimes you get stuck with a young actor who, as it turns out, doesn’t know how to act, and even if the actor is perfect there’s always the potential snake trap of making the kid too cute or annoying. But Black has never had trouble.

The Monster Squad, Last Action Hero, and The Last Boy Scout all have main characters played by child actors, and all of them succeed because Black writes the roles like they’re normal people who happen to be kids. What's not to love about the rebellion of foul-mouthed Darian Hallenbeck, played by a young Danielle Harris in Boy Scout, or the fun enthusiasm of Austin O'Brien's Danny Madigan as he pals around with Arnold Schwarzenegger? In Iron Man 3 Tony Stark winds up stranded in Rose Hill, Tennessee and ends up with a kid assistant named Harley (Ty Simpkins) who helps him with his investigation. As questionable as that may sound on paper, the banter between Tony and Harley is some of the best in the movie and responsible for some of the funniest moments.
It Has An Interracial Buddy “Cop” Team-Up
The interracial buddy cop formula actually pre-dates Black’s arrival in Hollywood, with movies like 48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop coming out before 1987’s Lethal Weapon, but it’s hard to argue that Black didn’t perfect it. Riggs and Murtaugh are a duo that movie history will never forget. Last Boy Scout’s Joe Hallenbeck and Jimmy Dix put a twist on the formula, making the pairing between a private investigator and a former football star, and the results were hilarious. Long Kiss Goodnight twisted it even further, putting together a P.I. and a female assassin, and the results were even better. And Black got to do it yet again working with Marvel.

Thanks to the relationship between Tony Stark and James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) established in both Iron Man and Iron Man 2 the road was already paved for Black to work his magic, and he once again has. Admittedly Tony and Rhodey don’t spend as much time together as most of the writer/director’s other pairings, but the characters are great when share scenes, be it sitting down for some lunch or fighting a brigade of bad guys together.

You Can Hear It In The Dialogue
Shane Black’s movies have always been as much comedies as they have been action films. While he has always been successful at layering in drama as well, it’s always the laughs that are most memorable. And it’s a credit to Black’s skill at writing dialogue. I will never get bored by the banter between Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr.) and Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as they discuss how to properly use an adverb, and Long Kiss Goodnight’s Charlie Baltimore (Geena Davis) has some of my favorite one-liners (“You're going to die screaming... and I'm going to watch.”)

In taking on an Iron Man movie Black was gifted with not just the whip-smart, back-talking Tony Stark, but also the chance to reunite with the great Robert Downey Jr., and the writer/director took full advantage of both. Despite the fact that he is dealing with post-traumatic stress after the events seen in The Avengers, Tony is the funniest we’ve ever seen him in Iron Man 3, be it calling a little kid a pussy for talking about his missing dad or talking smack to a couple of guards. The movie just sounds like a Shane Black movie.

The Twisty, Noir-Inspired Detective Story
When it comes to detective films like Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Shane Black wears his inspiration on his sleeve. His best stories harken back to those told in pulp fiction novels, and novels by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. All of the pieces fit from the Los Angeles setting to the dark, detective protagonists to the twisty plot. It lends Black’s work a special level of style, and that style certainly carries over to Iron Man 3.

In the new sequel Tony Stark is not just a billionaire, playboy philanthropist anymore, but a billionaire, playboy philanthropist detective. In his battle against The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), the hero is forced to go on a full-tilt investigation, revisiting crime scenes, digging through evidence and even interviewing witnesses. More than just being a detective story, though, what makes it a Shane Black detective story is ties back to classic noir. Stark is experiencing his darkest days due to post-traumatic stress from the Battle of New York, his hunt for the villain takes him through all kinds of crazy reveals and plot twists, and there’s even some great voiceover narration and a femme fatale to drive it all home.

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