As mumblemutter grumped, brown people only exist to be rescued, to be villains, or to enlighten and then heroically sacrifice themselves for the hero, but that's engraved in the character's origin. It'll likely be even worse in the next movie when the Mandarin and not just his Ten Rings show up -- at least this one went with the other classic villain type in the Iron Man mythos, the rich white businessman.
But it did a lot of things very well; they made the armor *work*, every version from the hand crafted mark 1 to the shiny red and gold came off cool and not ludicrous, they held suspension of disbelief gracefully despite the intense inherent silliness of crafting a miniature reactor in an Afghan cave. The CGI was gorgeous and invisible -- unlike any previous superhero movie, I never noticed the moments when they went from real armor to CGI.
And Robert Downey really brought the sense of Tony Stark being an intensely lonely person whose best friends are machines, or at least they are the only friends he can stand to be alone with for any length of time without the distractions of strippers, gambling, or alcohol. His joy in invention is fabulous, the building and testing of the Mark 2 armor may be the best sequence in the entire movie, down to the explosive glee as he goes on his test flight; wearing a jet fighter is fun, dammit. Downey is the cardinal strength of the movie.
Where they don't succeed so well is with the other characters. Terrence Howard is horribly, horribly underused (though he does what he can with the scraps he gets). The fact that Pepper Potts is that cliche of cliches, secretary in love with the boss, is again embedded in the mythology, and at least they give her the self awareness to realize that getting involved with him would be a bad idea and the clarity to diagnose why: her life is entirely about him, while despite his genuine affection for her, he forgets she exists as soon as she's out of the room. Regretfully, that clarity is unlikely to last through the next movie.
What is less excusable is the way she's essentially a human waldo. What role she has consists of remotely executing things because Stark can't be there: download this file. Flip that switch. Push that button. Even talking to SHIELD doesn't really count as initiative -- she doesn't think to contact them, the guy is right there asking for a debrief about the kidnap, and it doesn't exactly take much clue to figure you shouldn't leave out the part where Stane's funding the terrorists. She's perfectly *competent* at executing these commands, so she's not annoying as a character, but dear god, one hopes they give her some actual agency in the next movie, before the inevitable romance kicks in.
Actually, scratch calling her a waldo; one of his waldos displays more unprompted initiative in handing him the backup power source.