In 2009, J.J. Abrams boldly went where almost no man had gone before: He successfully rebooted a beloved franchise. His "Star Trek" didn't please every Trekkie, of course. But most of them were pleasantly surprised by the way he honored the spirit of the original television series and movies while making their universe more modern. The film created lots of new fans, too: It made more than $250 million at the domestic box office.

Lightning doesn't strike twice, as they say. Abrams' latest in the rejuvenated franchise, "Star Trek Into Darkness," offers a bit of fun with the crew of the Starship Enterprise -- but not nearly as much as his first film did.

Abrams didn't have as much room to be creative in his sequel. He'd already recreated the characters we all know and love and imagined how James T. Kirk first gained command of the Enterprise. But he could have instructed his writers to come up with a fresh story. Instead, "Star Trek Into Darkness" is a sort of parable on politics from the previous decade, something that's been rehashed many times before. Think of it as "Dick Cheney in Space."

The movie starts with the Enterprise crew violating the Starfleet's Prime Directive. Spock (Zachary Quinto), explaining that "Vulcans cannot lie," rats Kirk (Chris Pine) out, with the result that the Enterprise is taken out of his command. Never mind that Spock himself violated the directive with his own actions on that planet -- there's not much in the way of Spock's beloved rationality in this movie.

On screen
'Star Trek Into Darkness'
» Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
» Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch
» Director: J.J. Abrams
» Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence
» Running time: 132 minutes

But Kirk gets a shot at redemption -- and command of his ship again. John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a Starfleet agent gone rogue. "For reasons unknown," as Adm. Marcus (Peter Weller) says, Harrison blows up a Starfleet data archive in London, then kills some commanders at headquarters. Marcus wants Kirk to go after him and take revenge, something Kirk is happy to do. Spock, though, takes every chance to object to the mission to kill Harrison without trial as immoral, much to Kirk's irritation: "I'm not going to take ethics lessons from a robot." But, as often happens in such movies, Kirk learns that not everything is as it seems, not with the villainous Harrison or with Starfleet itself.

At times, "Star Trek Into Darkness" revels in its camp roots. The exaggerated accents, such as Chekov's (Anton Yelchin) Russian and Scotty's (Simon Pegg), well, Scottish, are the most fun. Kirk is (inevitably) caught in bed, with two strange women. Other times, Abrams takes it to another, more melodramatic level. There are a lot of scenes here of people simply eyeing each other. In the middle of a deadly battle, Kirk and Harrison must stop the shooting so they can look at each other meaningfully. Cumberbatch sometimes seems to be overacting, but he's just doing what the script requires: taking things over the top. Alice Eve is a pleasant new member of the team, but even she must have rolled her eyes when asked to appear in the film in her underwear, for no real purpose.

The script turns out to be pretty predictable, especially for those who notice the real-life political parallels (which are almost impossible to miss). The addition of 3-D for this entry is all but pointless -- it was added in post-production.

Watching actors like Pegg and Karl Urban (McCoy) lose themselves in their iconic roles has its pleasures, though. "And enough of the metaphors, all right? That's an order," Kirk says to McCoy during one tense moment. The alien species of "Star Trek" always look so humanoid, and the clothes worn in the future are remarkably similar to our own. But the best part of this sci-fi adventure has always been the human element -- and even Spock, nicknamed "Pointy" by Kirk, is half-human.