Filmmaker Shane Black has always loved to pepper his stories with violent outbursts, either for dramatic or comical effect. From his scripts for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, to his writer/directorial efforts Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, and The Nice Guys; these are worlds that Black has envisioned with consequential action that not only informs the plot but also reflects on the characters. While part of it is just popcorn entertainment to see his noir-drenched characters do some really cool stunts, another part is a window into the souls of the films themselves and the worlds he has created (along with the people that populate those worlds). A new video by The Nerdwriter (a.k.a. Evan Puschak) looks at Shane Black’s judicious use of action and violence in his films, and finds an insight from which other filmmakers would do well to learn.
And yes, while more people should’ve seen The Nice Guys as opposed to The Angry Birds Movie, the main point of Puschak’s video essay is how Black uses violence in his films depending on the mood he’s trying to establish for the character. Firstly, the violence is usually not that slick but instead either sudden and/or messy in how it’s delivered, with bare-knuckle brawls revealing the savage nature of his heroes. It’s a form of action that is only a few steps beyond reality (yes, even in Iron Man 3) as opposed to leaps and bounds into a stylistic ballet of brutality found in most other action films.
Secondly, Black uses that messy, near-realistic violence to explore his characters. If it’s to undercut their suave exteriors and reveal the bumbling fools underneath, like in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, or to show that it’s actually taking a toll on them, like in his scripts for those ’80s and ’90s blockbusters. Particularly in his directorial efforts, but also in his spec scripts, Black makes violence mean something and makes it a visceral moment of either comedy or drama that inherently bonds the audience with the characters onscreen. With his Predator sequel coming, it’ll be interesting to see how Black can maintain that same repertoire of grounded action. But it is certain that when someone throws a punch or shoots a gun, there will be a lot of thought put behind it.