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“Iron Man 2” and “Princess Kaiulani”

“Iron Man 2” and “Princess Kaiulani” (photo)

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With the release of “Iron Man 2,” the Marvel Comics franchise is officially two-for-two — two thoroughly competent, occasionally inspired yet ultimately forgettable films that promise sly engagement with real-world anxieties, then set that promise aside in favor of corporate intrigue and endless scenes of robots bashing the crap out of each other.

The first half of the original “Iron Man” played on public anxieties about a post-9/11 world in which democratic governments had ceded power to soldiers and corporations, and city-leveling firepower was available to any party with money and connections. The hero, wastrel industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), was a poster child for military-capitalist America — a smart-mouthed rotter who believed in nothing but his own comfort. The replacement of Stark’s heart with a nuclear-powered machine was a mere formality: his real heart stopped beating much earlier.

Director Jon Favreau (“Made”) and his screenwriter Justin Theroux set up a hard-edged redemption fable with goofy political resonance. After a lifetime of cashing checks and disclaiming responsibility for his company’s actions, Stark endured Christ-like solitude and abuse in a Mideastern desert, was reborn a man of conscience, and rebuilt his own image and his company’s (both represented by the suit) and set about deweaponizing Stark Industries.

05062010_IronMan2-2.jpgStark’s ethical reboot was a big bait-and-switch, of course. Jeff Bridges’s character, a bald, glowering wannabe-CEO, tried to set Stark up for a fall and reposition the company to deal death again — and, as is always the case in super-expensive comic book flicks, the story resolved itself with the protracted spectacle of two guys in cool suits whaling on each other. Favreau’s gift for semi-improvised ball-busting comedy and Stark’s Nick and Nora Charles-style banter with gal Friday Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) made the film seem fresher than it was.

You could tell by the good-enough-for-government-work fight scenes that Favreau could not care less about mayhem. But since the film moved fast and didn’t take itself seriously, nobody seemed to mind. “Iron Man” coasted to box office glory on the strength of Downey’s Eddie Haskell grin and mumbled witticisms. (What’s the difference between superhero movies and every other kind of movie? During superhero movies, you perk up when people talk to each other and check your watch when stuff blows up.)

“Iron Man 2” enacts more or less the same story, changing key elements to avoid charges of bald-faced rehash. In place of an intra-corporate rival pressuring Stark to surrender the suit, Stark has two external nemeses: Mickey Rourke’s thug-inventor Whiplash, who accuses Stark’s late dad of betraying and impoverishing Whiplash’s own father and building the Stark empire on intellectual theft; and a conniving fellow industrialist (Sam Rockwell, channeling yuppie weasel Carter Burke from 1986’s “Aliens”) who’s in cahoots with military and legislative sleazoids (the latter represented by Garry Shandling, whose rubbery face-work is the film’s scariest special effect).

05062010_IronMan2-5.jpgHere, as in the first “Iron Man,” Stark’s heart trouble is a compact metaphor for his moral and emotional struggle. Sickened by radiation seepage, he obsessively tests his blood and scarfs raw chlorophyll; the ever-growing network of veins on his chest is as abstractly beautiful as a Piet Mondrian print. But Stark’s cardiac failure is at least half due to depression and self-loathing. Scared of death and worried about his legacy, he numbs his pain with booze, material goods and party-hound excess, carrying on like, well, the pre-rehab Robert Downey, Jr.

That description makes “Iron Man 2” sound a cut above the norm, and I guess it is, for whatever that’s worth. But the resolution of Stark’s struggle relies too heavily on deus ex machina (no pun intended). Theroux’s script fudges its laboriously introduced, every-great-fortune-is-built-on-a-crime angle, much as the first film dropped its Tony-Stark-equals-the-sins-the-military-industrial-complex angle. And the entire thing feels a bit too much like A Very Special Episode.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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