First thing I was struck by in the film is the fact that they link it's story to "The Chronicles of Riddick." Again, this is a spoiler-free review so I won't touch on it too much, but just know that Riddick's predicament in this film is related to where we leave him at the end of the previous film. This connection, however, is not overbearing and comes and goes just to justify Riddick's current situation when we first meet him again.
Past that, the first quarter of the movie is very unexpected...in a good way. You get to see the crafty/survival side of our favorite Furyan as he makes it on his own (or mostly on his own). Katee Sackhoff and the crew don't show up until about 30 min into the film. At that point the movie is pushed along by the usual stuff...bounty hunters tripping over each other and dying while trying to catch their mark. Riddick is particularly crafty at dealing with this bunch of rough necks (two different groups of them actually...which is the source of some expected tension), which eventually need his help. What they need his help with is the part that's very reminiscent of "Pitch Black," but definitely ties into to the overall story of this film, independently.
When it's all over, you realize that "Riddick" has a beginning, middle, and end with our main character growing and changing throughout each part. Sure, he remains the ultimate badass, but it's how he maintains that makes this Riddick my second favorite movie in the franchise...and that's only because nothing will ever top "Pitch Black."