Shane Black is responsible for giving life to some of the action movie genre’s most enduring clichés, and one of the principal pleasures of his behind-the-camera work on Iron Man 3 is how often he gleefully subverts those same beats. If you’ve ever wondered how villains are able to keep so many anonymous, doomed-to-die henchmen on their payrolls, you’ll surely laugh at the underling who immediately surrenders to Tony Stark because his evil boss is so “weird.” If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at the moment that our tough hero is humanized by an adorable little moppet, you’ll enjoy how throughly uninterested Stark is in bonding with young Harley and how he responds to the youngster’s sad backstory by blithely calling him a pussy. And if you’ve ever thought, Really, another third-act fight sequence set at a crane-filled shipyard? … well, unfortunately we can’t help you there, as that’s the one action movie cliché Black can’t seem to surmount.
As Grantland’s Wesley Morris pointedly ranted, “Iron Man 3 decides to stage its climactic, pyrotechnic blowout where only the sleepiest, poorest, and most imagination-strapped shoot-’em-ups dare to tread: a shipyard … its stages could almost be considered levels in an old Nintendo game.” And while it’s been more than three decades since Mario rushed down crooked girders and evaded balls of fire set loose by Donkey Kong, action heroes keep returning to that kind of sprawling, anonymous set time and again. Off the very top of our head, we can think of big shipyard/factory battle scenes from movies as varied as Lethal Weapon 2 (the spawn of Shane Black), Batman Begins, The Adventures of Tintin, Hanna, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day; even last month’s Oblivion had a chaotic third-act battle scene that took place in a dark, girder-filled, warehouselike cave. If big-budget action movies are determined to give us sights we’ve never seen before, can’t they ditch these same-y settings?
One suggestion along those lines: Iron Man 3 sends Stark to Miami, a visually dynamic city with plenty of interesting real state to fly over and through, but for the final confrontation, he’s shuttled off to an anonymous boatyard that might as well be hitched to any coastal town. Wouldn’t it have been more fun to watch Iron Man awe the people of Miami with a blocks-wide battle through the neon-lit city at night? After all, if Aldrich Killian wanted to strut down the street showing off his chest tattoo while Pepper Potts glowed a bright shade of unnatural orange, they couldn’t have picked a better city than Miami to do it in. We’re done with the docks, Hollywood: Find us someplace more creative for your superheroes to tussle.