The Plot: Spock’s not dead! Captain James Kirk, still reeling from losing his friend, must risk everything to save him. Also the Genesis Device was shoddily constructed, the planet it created is blowing up, also too the Klingons are after it, with a cast including not one but two ’80s sitcom legends and the first ever Targ in Star Trek. Who is horrifying…ly cute!

What Works: The sequence where Kirk and the secondary cast steal the Enterprise:

Honestly, a lot of the time I just rewatch this scene instead of the entire movie. It’s really good! You can tell something is well-directed when you know exactly what’s going to happen and yet you’re hooked in anyway. It’s tense but also contains the most significant character moment maybe ever for Kirk, after the captain of the Excelsior reminds him that he’s never going to command a ship again. Seriously, what would Kirk do if he couldn’t command a ship? Who would he be? We’ve seen him as a paper-shuffling bureaucrat and he couldn’t have been more miserable. Not to mention that he’s committing some serious crimes as well. (And yeah, we know that there are more movies in the series and it all gets straightened out, but it’s still one of the most powerful moments in Star Trek to me.)

What Doesn’t Work: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with as serious a case of premature climax as this one. The Enterprise is stolen like 40 minutes into the movie! To be fair, the people who made the film seem well aware of the issue and try to make an even bigger climax by adding several things together: David’s death and the destruction of the Enterprise. But the movie never again reaches as great a level of tension as when they’re stealing the ship, which is I think why everybody complains about the (basically fine) Genesis Planet scenes that immediately follow it. Admittedly, the sets for those scenes look awful:

Sorry, pumping in the smoke isn’t going to help disguise that everything’s made of cheap plastic.

Star Trek is weird. Successful movies tend to mean less budgetary freedom for the next installment, perhaps because of salary increases. Paramount never opened the checkbook for it. There are just a lot of things in this movie that look cheap and bad. I don’t really like the Klingon ship set either. And while The Wrath Of Khan doesn’t feel like the ’80s in any meaningful way, boy does this movie, particularly in the ripoff Star Wars Cantina scene:

Holograms! The future! And dear Lord, those outfits. Chekov looks like William Tell:

Honestly, it’s clear that this is Nimoy’s first outing as a feature director, there are just a lot of things that needed a bit more care and attention and didn’t get it. For one thing, I’m really not a fan of the editing of this movie, Enterprise theft sequence aside. A lot of scenes are just the slightest bit flabby. But I will say that it does hit home emotionally. When Kirk says that if he hadn’t done anything, “The price would have been my soul,” instead of coming off as it is written (that is, creakily), it feels honest and moving. And while a lot of people have an issue with Christopher Lloyd as Kruge, the villain, he never really bothered me. I like how he counterpoints Kirk–he’s doing what he considers the right thing, no matter the cost, as well. At the very least, Kruge has a pretty reasonable (if paranoid) motivation for what he’s doing, and he gives the character a good amount of dimension and personality to make him a well above average antagonist. I credit Nimoy for much of this, it’s clear he’s good at working with actors and finding the emotional core of the script. But he cannot get a decent performance out of Robin Curtis as the replacement Saavik, which is probably another reason why those scenes drag. (I don’t think that’s his fault, by the way.)

Also, one random minor thing that always bothered me. I guess Bibi Besch drove too high a bargain for her image to be used in the movie (?) as Kirk rerecorded her Genesis Device video. Why? It’s so small and stupid to complain about but it’s just inexplicable. It’s like when the McCarthyite Senator from The Manchurian Candidate yells “Point of order!” when he has the floor. Not that anybody should care, I guess, but I do.

Also, John Larroquette is a Klingon too!

Legacy: Middling at best. I guess it’s known as “the best of the odds,” back when that meant something, but considering that the movies it’s better than with that designation are The Motion Picture and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, that’s not saying much. The script just has a fundamental structural problem with the Enterprise theft that cannot be ignored. Then again, it is kind of great that everything isn’t just back to normal at the end of the movie. See, back in the ’80s, it wasn’t taken for granted that everything would get a sequel or that there would be some kind of universe in which to put the film, so everything had to be tied up at the end. Nowadays nothing actually ties up at the end. But the ending with Spock does provide closure to the experience, which modern films aren’t always as good at providing:

It’s a perfectly fine movie, and a good first feature outing for Nimoy. His next, though, would be far more assured.

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