Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – Movie Review

Moving right along in our Star Trek movie review series, we come to the third installment of the franchise, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Although, while this film is indeed the third film in a six film franchise (counting only the films that exclusively feature the original), it really feels more like direct sequel to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the middle movie of what would eventually become a loose trilogy, nestled in the middle of the whole franchise. Of that trilogy, consisting of The Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home it’s easy to kind of write Search for Spock off as the one wedged between Khan and “the one with the whales”, which is technically true, but it does a disservice to Search for Spock which is a pretty solid Star Trek movie.  Let’s get into it!

Right out of the gate, one of my favorite things about this movie is that it picks up immediately after The Wrath of Khan with the crew of the Enterprise still reeling from the battle and still very much feeling the loss of Spock and with the Enterprise herself, limping back to Earth still showing the scars of battle. Picking up the story right here gives the series some much needed continuity after the first and second entries being completely unattached to each other. It also informs the audience as to where all the characters are emotionally and immediately plays off their emotions and ours. Kirk’s opening voice over is especially poignant as he explains that the ship feels empty and that he has “left the most noblest part of myself back there on that newborn planet”. I’m really glad that they didn’t leave all the emotional stakes of Spock’s death in the previous movie and allowed them to carry over so heavily, which brings me around to my next item – I love that the writers took their time with bringing Spock back.

Character deaths are treated so callously in modern TV and cinema that it’s often hard to feel any real emotional impact when it happens. Whether it’s shows like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, character deaths are commonplace and often are done maliciously and in a manner that almost antagonizes the audience but with Spock’s death, he died so that the rest of the crew might live and he was given a proper hero’s death. I realize that’s more of a commentary on Wrath of Khan than Search for Spock but stay with me. Having a character death with such weight to it, would be completely undermined by a character revival that was too quick, too easy, or showing that he didn’t even die in the first place *cough*cough*Glenn*cough*dumpster*. Spending an entire movie fighting to bring a character back to life is something almost unheard of these days.  In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it seems that any character that has been killed magically get’s better by the time the end credits roll (with one or two notable exceptions). Even with in the Star Trek franchise, in Star Trek Into Darkness Kirk dies and is brought back by hand wavy explanations after being dead for all of 20 minutes (I’m sure I’ll rant on that more when I get to that movie).  I am really glad that between Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock the Star Trek franchise gave us an example of character deaths with real weight and character revivals that actually took herculean efforts to pull off.

Just like in Wrath of Khan, the character moments are on point again. All the characters, at least our original crew characters, are all vibrant and well written. This movie has probably one of my favorite character exchanges:

  • Kirk: How much refit time before we can take her out again?
  • Scotty: Eight weeks, sir. But ye don’t have eight weeks, so I’ll do it for ye in two.
  • Kirk: Mr. Scott. Have you always multiplied your repair estimates by a factor of four?
  • Scotty: Certainly, sir. How else can I keep my reputation as a miracle worker?
  • Kirk: [over the intercom] Your reputation is secure, Scotty.

I also love the scene where McCoy tries and utterly fails to use the Vulcan nerve pinch on some one and later on in the movie, there’s a quick scene with Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov trying to decipher the controls in the Klingon ship and seeing those three being so confused made me think of the Three Stooges.  Such well written moments that poke fun of the show’s history while also honoring it.

The main villain, Klingon Captain Kruge (played wonderfully by Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd) comes off as menacing and actually feels like a real threat.  He doesn’t quite measure up to Khan but Khan had a great “in universe” back story to bolster his character. It’s also interesting going back to a point in Star Trek continuity where the Klingon Empire and the Federation are in a cold war of sorts.  It’s fun to see that interaction after watching through the later seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where the Klingons and the Federation are allies in the war against the Dominion.

Kirstie Alley apparently refused to come back and reprise her role as Lt. Saavik due to money issues (because of course) and Robin Curtis was cast in her place. Curtis did a serviceable job in the role but I liked Alley better and wish she had come back.

While a lot of this movie deals with bringing Spock back to life, the rest of the story deals with the Klingon’s, led by the aforementioned Kruge, as they try to steal all the information they can about the Genesis project and device.  This is a fantastic evolution of the story line presented in Wrath of Khan as it plays on the exact fears of the Genesis scientists – that their project to create life could ultimately be stolen and used as weapon of mass destruction. Even outside of this movie, that’s a great thing to explore.  Well intentioned science run amok has been the basis for many a fantastic movie.

In the end, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is a bit of a step down from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan but it is still a solid film with a lot to like.

Final Rating: B

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