It was fast, funny, and sexy, and director J.J. Abrams took his sweet time developing a sequel (keeping it shrouded in mystery, of course). Now that sequel is (FINALLY) here, with "Star Trek Into Darkness," which pits the crew of the USS Enterprise against a terrorist villain known as John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).
In all likelihood, this will be Abrams's last go 'round in the captain's chair, as he starts work on the seventh "Star Wars" movie for Disney and Lucasfilm some time this year, for release in 2015. The question then is: Does he go out on a high note, or will he leave you begging for another director to helm the Enterprise? Well, here are 10 things you should keep in mind as you travel "Into Darkness."
1. It's Not That Dark The trailers and title for "Star Trek Into Darkness" make it seem like a more oppressively heavy piece of machinery than it actually is, full of explosions and terrorists and sooty spaceships falling out of the sky. Thankfully, it's really not. In fact, it's just as zippy and entertaining as the original film. So don't worry -- it's just pretending to be "The Dark Knight."
2. The Cast Is Still on Fire What made the original 2009 "Star Trek" so much fun was that director Abrams and his confederates had assembled a crack team of newcomers that embodied the spirit and fun of the original series (and, to a lesser extent, the original set of films). That means everybody is back and ready to party, and while the movie again focuses on the relationship between Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his first mate Spock (Zachary Quinto), each character does get his or her moment in the sun (and Karl Urban's McCoy is given a chance to really shine). You could watch these actors read the phone book and it'd probably be pretty riveting.
3. The New Additions Are Great And what's more, Abrams and his crew have welcomed the new cast members with open arms. Of particular note is Alice Eve, as Carol Marcus, who Trek diehards can tell you holds a very special place in the series' mythology. She's got a wonderful asymmetrical haircut and an adorable British accent, and adds some much-needed emotional depth to all of the Star-Trekking craziness. (Her father, a Starfleet superior played by Peter Weller, is also totally brilliant and not altogether a good guy.) And speaking of bad guys...
4. Yes, Cumberbatch Is Very, Very Bad A lot of the speculation about "Star Trek Into Darkness" has been around Benedict Cumberbatch's character and who, exactly, he plays. We're not going to spoil that here because we want J.J. Abrams to still talk to us if we ever run into him at a party. But that doesn't really matter because, yes, Cumberbatch is a really scary bad guy and totally makes the character (whoever that character might be) his own. We also love that his floppy hair seems to react to whatever mood he's in. It's pretty great, too.
5. See It in IMAX 3D During our screening, people were literally ducking as things came flying out of the screen and into the audience. That's how great the 3D looks. There's this thing that Abrams does with the warp drive, where it leaves this glittery trail behind the ship in space (the soundtrack even "twinkles"), and it's so amazing in 3D. The IMAX is another matter altogether -- it's genuinely stunning and just as immersive as the 3D. Yes, the tickets are considerably more expensive, but in the case of "Star Trek Into Darkness," it's worth it.
6. It Doesn't Make a Whole Lot of Sense Yes, 2009's "Star Trek" had a whole superdome's worth of plotting issues, but "Star Trek Into Darkness" makes so little sense that thinking about it for any prolonged amount of time will probably give you a brain aneurysm. Thankfully, the movie moves so quickly that you don't have time to linger on questionable character motivations and plot mechanics. Forget about a roller-coaster ride, this is like spending the entire day at the theme park. Please keep all hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.
7. Michael Giacchino's Score Rules The original "Star Trek" theme music is so iconic that it's hard to think of anyone replacing that score -- or even coming close to replicating it. Thankfully, longtime Abrams collaborator Michael Giacchino has made a score all his own that is just as exciting and heartwarming. His "Star Trek" theme is fast approaching the level of the original, and that's no small feat.
8. Watch "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" Again Before You See This New Movie That's not giving anything away, either. It's almost like both movies (2009's "Star Trek" and "Star Trek Into Darkness) are subtle remakes of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," for different ways and in different shades. Like putting them together and getting one huge, two-movie-length remake. What makes "Star Trek Into Darkness" so fascinating is how many direct callbacks there are to that movie (including exact copies of snippets of dialogue), with a bunch of extra "Star Trek" shout-outs to various parts of the mythology. If it's been your dream to see a tribble on the big screen, consider that dream come true!
9. It Could Have Used More Aliens Just saying. There are a whole host of aliens in the "Star Trek" universe, and while we get to see a few of the most familiar ones in this movie (no, we're not saying who), there seems to be a genuine untapped goldmine for characters and creatures that Abrams and his collaborators could have drawn from (but chose not to). Oh well. There is some weird robot guy on the bridge that nobody calls by name or even really acknowledges. That's something, right?
10. You'll Be Ready for "Star Trek 3," or "Star Trek Into More Darkness" The movie ends on something of a cliffhanger, which makes you clamor for the third installment. Too bad J.J. Abrams is leaving the franchise for a galaxy far, far away...
"Star Trek Into Darkness" is in theaters now.