It must be good to be blessed with the double whammy of talent and having friends in high places. Shane Black was infamous in Hollywood in the 1980s and 90s for writing the scripts of high-octane action films such as Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2, The Last Boy Scout and Last Action Hero. He was one of the highest paid screenwriters in the business, having been paid $1.75 million to write The Last Boy Scout in 1991 and set the record for the highest paid script ever upon receiving $4 million for The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996.
After a near decade hiatus following a career downswing, he remerged with his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005, starring Val Kilmer (Top Gun) and Robert Downey Jr. (Soapdish). The film garnered rapturous critical reviews, quickly achieved cult status and got Robert Downey Jr. back in the good graces of Hollywood after a very messy and public drug addiction fallout and incarceration. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang arguably paved the way for Downey Jr. to land the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man. As the living, breathing avatar of Iron Man, RDJ could ask for a roasted white elephant to eat for breakfast and Marvel would have it cooked and delivered for him the next day, so when he put forward the idea of Black directing the third and final Iron Man film, Marvel listened. Good move on their part - they kept their key talent happy and scored a director who would bring a new spin on the franchise after a mediocre sequel.
While Iron Man 2 made slightly less domestically than Iron Man, $312 million (2010) in comparison to $318 million (2008), Iron Man 3 was the first Marvel film release since the juggernaut that was the Avengers and was the final film of the Iron Man franchise. This unique set of circumstances led to the film rocketing out of the gate with a massive box office for Iron Man’s final solo outing, making $409 million domestic total and $1.2 billion worldwide box office.
Black’s Iron Man 3 was an acquired taste and wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but overall most critics and fans agreed it was much better than the messy Iron Man 2 (if only Marvel had let Maya be the villain!!!). He also directed the Western pilot Edge, starring Max Martini (The Unit, 13 Hours), Ryan Kwanten (Home and Away, True Blood) and Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck, The Handmaid’s Tale) for Amazon’s pilot season in 2015, which did not get picked up.
Black leveraged his Iron Man 3 goodwill to make The Nice Guys, a 1970s LA neo-noir action comedy original feature (originality sure is becoming the rarest Pokemon of all in in the film industry) starring Russell Crowe (Gladiator) and Ryan Gosling (The Notebook). Featuring the best Crowe performance in years and Gosling playing a weasely sad sack rather than the Golden Boy, The Nice Guys was one of the funniest, most original films of 2016, but despite critical raves it was a commercial flop upon release in May 2016, making only $57.3 million worldwide on a $50 million budget. Why can’t we have nice things!!!??? It is flops like these that feed Hollywood’s erroneous belief that nothing but franchises and intellectual property-based films make money grrrrrr! He also wrote the pilot of Fox’s Lethal Weapon television reboot in 2016, which stars Damon Wayans (The Last Boy Scout - the irony!) and Clayne Crawford (Rectify), and has been renewed for a second season.
Verdict: 7/10. While The Nice Guys crashed and burned commercially, Black hasn’t let it slow him down. Fox hired him to direct the reboot of the Predator franchise, in which he had a small part as Rick Hawkins in the original film. Life really does come full circle in the strangest ways at times, doesn’t it? With an eclectically excellent cast of Boyd Holbrook (Logan), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele), Sterling K. Brown (The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story), Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) and Jacob Tremblay (Room), I’m betting Black will bring something special to the table. He is also attached to direct the Doc Savage reboot and adapt 1970s action pulp series The Destroyer for Sony. Some one may accuse Black of selling out, but at least he is doing so with properties that fit his style and oeuvre. To me, it looks like he’s balancing the industry politics of personal taste and business pretty darn well.