The last couple years weren't the best for comic book movies. From Ang Lee's arthouse interpretation of the Hulk to the inspirationless Ghost Rider, a series of comic book adaptations were produced that failed to reproduce the magic and commercial success of the first two X-Men and Spider-Man movies. The potentially great Daredevil was a train wreck. Having been absolutely thrilled after seeing the characters I grew up with come to life with the first X-Men movies, my own enthusiasm, which originally was just founded on the thrill of mainstream entertainment recognizing my childhood idols, dissipated and I began to have lower expectations. Whereas I used to go see every comic book related movie that came out in theaters, I waited to see V for Vendetta and A History of Violence on DVD.
I was going to do the same thing in regards to Iron Man until the positive reviews started flowing in. Hugh Hewitt of Townhall called it a "fine movie" and The A.V. Club called it "the rare comic-book movie that makes the prospect of a sequel seem like a promise instead of a threat." The political message was pleasurably complex, showing barbaric terrorists and noble secret agents (in the form of S.H.E.I.L.D., the government agency that deals with superhuman activities) in addition to war profiteers.
Iron Man has a top notch cast in addition to a witty and creative script and plot. Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard, two of Hollywood's most talented actors, both shined as Tony Stark's closest friends, Pepper Potts and Jim Rhodes (who goes on to become War Machine). Jeff Bridges played his role of Obadiah Stane well, though the lack of a menacing or villainous voice on his part made me keep thinking of his role of "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski when I should have found him frightening.
The all star cast was topped off by the excellent casting of Robert Downey Jr. There was a famous storyline in the Iron Man comic books where Downey faced a crippling alchohol addiction, and Stark was obviously modelled after reckless behaving billionares like Howard Hughes. Downey's own struggle with drug use and his ability to overcome it made him perfect for the role of this imperfect superhero.
Iron Man is probably not for everybody, but if you enjoy action movies, superheroes or even geopolitical thrillers, you will definitely like it. Let's hope that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Incredible Hulk are up to snuff as well.