As a life-long Star Trek fan it’s almost impossible to say there has ever been a bad Star Trek film. There certainly has been some bad storylines and plots to the films but whenever you have the beloved cast members on screen simply interacting with one another and being so true to their characters, it’s never bad.
This third film in the series is certainly what started people thinking about the odd-numbered-film curse, which eventually held true until the tenth film of the franchise. Up until that point it was the even-numbered films that were standouts while the odd-numbered films lacked focus and were deemed to be of lesser quality.
In this third incarnation it truly felt like it was a filler in a trilogy just trying to bridge the gap between two exceptional movies, The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) had just died at the end of the previous film and in order to move on to the next adventure they had to find a way to bring him back.
To accomplish this feat it took a giant leap from the audience to believe that you could launch someone into a planet in the middle of it being terraformed, and not only would the planet be reborn, but the dead person as well. But not only did it bring him back to life, it actually reformed his molecules and started him back from his chromosomal basis and quickly grew him from a child into a man and stopped at the exact age that he was when he died.
Meanwhile Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Enterprise have headed to dry dock. The ship is in dire need of repairs, and once repairs are finished they plan to return to the Genesis planet where they left Spock’s body. But there’s a problem. Starfleet has no intention of repairing the Enterprise. It has been ordered that the ship is to be decommissioned and the crew pushed into semi-retirement.
But as anyone knows who’s ever seen an episode of Star Trek before, the crew isn’t going to sit still for that and they’re going to take matters into their own hands. Everyone except for Dr. McCoy (Deforest Kelly), who has been acting strange since their return and is later found to be harboring Spock’s soul inside of him. The Doctor’s erratic behavior has gotten him locked up by Starfleet security and his friends are going to have to break him out.
While Kirk is executing his plan to steal back his ship, his son David (Merritt Butrick ), who created the Genesis program and planet, has discovered Spock’s life signs on the planet and brought Saavik (Robin Curtis) with him for assistance. But while they are on the planet, a Klingon vessel commanded by Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) has destroyed their ship and has sent his men hunting for the trio in order to learn the secrets of the Genesis technology, which he plans to use as a weapon.
For the most part, the storyline of the planet is a confusing mess and fairly boring. The best parts of the film have very little to deal with Spock and his arc. They are just perfect moments when the characters are simply true and pure to themselves in what we as fans have come to love about them over several decades of viewing. Watching McCoy trying to give a Starfleet security guard the Vulcan neck pinch is just hysterical. Sulu (George Takei) kicking the ass of a giant security officer for calling him “Tiny” is excellent and Scotty’s (James Doohan) sabotage of the USS Excelsior is just perfect and sums up the essence of everything that is and has ever been Scotty.
But of course, the best is saved for the captain. He has just learned of the murder of his son, the Enterprise is going down in flames and all hope is gone. While this may be a no-win situation for most people, Captain Kirk never gives up and bends the rules by abandoning the Enterprise, having it boarded by the Klingons, and having it self-destruct right in their faces. An unbelievably brilliant moment. This was the true climax of the film and puts that smile on your face as you remember just how badass he is. It’s such a classic Kirk moment that it makes the final battle with Kruge a little deflated.
In the end it’s all of these gems scattered throughout that save the film. It does deserve to be considered one of the lesser films in the series, but it’s certainly not the worst one. That honor will go to another film when they try to pass the torch to another Enterprise crew. But that is a completely different review for another time.