Iron Man 3 just broke the part-three movie curse. Conversely, Star Trek Into Darkness breaks the "second is better than the first installment" streak. Before heading off to another galaxy far far away, director J.J. Abrams delivers a summer popcorn flick that thrills as much as tickles the funny bones. If the results never quite reach the slam-dunk highs of the 2009 reboot, that's somewhat to be expected. After all those mysterious trailers and TV spots there was bound to be some J.J. fatigue.
Six months after the events of the last film, Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the Enterprise are off to capture and assassinate a man who's responsible for blowing up a building and opening fire on the heads of Starfleet. As usual, Kirk is at odds with Spock (Zachary Quinto). Spock, is also is having a hard time keeping his main squeeze Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Be honest, do you really care about the science of a newly developed mobile transporter machine (neat trick!) or more importantly, in what alternate universe Spock and Uhura could ever work as a couple? Exactly. Let the bickering and sass commence! Check out these five things to know before beaming up.
1. John Harrison Is No Joker: Benedict Cumberbatch had a small part in War Horse, but most know him from BBC's Sherlock. Those piercing eyes, raven locks and above all, a voice that is just so darn relaxed. This winter, he'll breathe fire on his Watson (Martin Freeman) as the dragon Smaug in the next Hobbit, but here he's John Harrison. Or is he? We'll never tell, but unfortunately, through no fault of Cumberbatch's performance, the baddie gets less compelling the more you know about him.
2. A Very Bright Future: London and San Francisco impress in IMAX with neon-lit buildings that make Milla Jovovich's memorable plunge in The Fifth Element look quaint. As he did in 2009's Trek, Abrams jumps at the opportunity to go old-school with another track by the Beastie Boys. Fun fact: The Earth-stationed Starfleet scenes were shot in the marble-encased Getty Museum located in Los Angeles.
3. Wisecracks Still at Warp Five: Pine, Quinto and Saldana deliver every quip with a dizzyingly deft touch. The film's highlight has the trio stranded on a top-secret mission to Kronos (or Qo'noS for ST purists), the Klingon home world. Karl Urban and Simon Pegg are also hilarious reprising their roles as Bones and Scotty, but a wee bit underused.
4. Throwback References Outweigh a Solid Story: After their clever, fan-approved new timeline in the first outing, screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof infuse too much of Into Darkness with callbacks to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn: a two-starship standoff, a sacrifice (with a twist!) and Alice Eve's curiously misleading character, to name a few. All of it unnecessary. Highly illogical.
5. What Does This Mean for Star Wars Episode VII? Into Darkness is a good though not great addition to the Trek universe, but J.J.'s direction is still as focused as his lens flares. His next project is the first entry in the new Disney-owned Star Wars series, which is set to hit theaters in 2015. The key to re-energizing the Force is good humor and an ensemble we can relate to. Think Mark Hamill's '70s surfer smile in A New Hope. Which is exactly what J.J. did for both Trek films. To the haters we say: We find your lack of faith disturbing.