I ranted, a bit back, about how the Kirk in The Wrath of Khan was not the Kirk we know and love. With Kirk so deeply misunderstood, could he ever spring back? He does, in fact, in the very next film. Before you freak out, let me state clearly: The Search for Spock is a terrible, terrible movie. The acting is dull. The costumes are ridiculous. Everything looks flat and uninteresting. Even ILM’s gorgeous models are lit with zero depth. The characters are equally shallow. What the hell is Saavik doing in this whole movie? She mumbles like a computer for an hour and a half and gets saddled as adolescent Spock’s sex outlet. Saavik is a trained Starfleet officer and a super strong Vulcan who can do nerve pinches and snap necks one-handed. Are you telling me she couldn’t have handled two Klingons with knives? And then just one F-ing Klingon with no knife? WTF-ing F?
The only thing good going on in Search for Spock is Christopher Lloyd as the most naturalistic Klingon speaker Marc Okrand ever trained (until Christoper Plumber). And even he’s a complete raging doofus of a villain.
Oh, wait, there is one more good thing. Kirk’s a hero again. I know that sounds odd, but bear with me. In The Motion Picture Kirk makes only one right (and kind of obvious) call. He enters the V’Ger cloud despite Decker whining that it’s too dangerous. After that he just let’s stuff happen until Decker jumps in, figures out the puzzle, attains the all, and gets the girl. In The Wrath of Khan Kirk makes more right calls than in TMP – one of which is entering another cloud – but fumbles at the end. He just sits on the bridge and sweats while Spock makes the big decision to save the ship. Twice in a row Kirk is not the hero of his own movie.
The Search for Spock returns Kirk to form. As insane as everything he does is, he’s the one making the big calls. He’s the one who formulates the plan, gets them out of scrapes, makes the big sacrifices, and face-kicks the bad guy into an ocean of lava.
“Come on!” you might say. “Kirk doesn’t always have to be the hero! Look at Paradise Syndrome!” That episode was a pile of racist crap. Kirk is always the guy who puts two-and-two together. Corbomite Maneuver, The Doomsday Machine, Immunity Syndrome. Spock, McCoy, and Scotty give Kirk all the right info and Kirk comes up with the solution. It goes like this:
McCoy: Jim! This cat is practically blind! It’ll never be able to milk a cow!
Spock: Captain, the lenses on these ancient artifacts are crafted to perfection right down to the atom.
Kirk: Bones! What if we could use these alien lenses to make the cat glasses? The people of this planet will be able to have ice cream sundaes when ever they want!
McCoy: (lifts eyebrow) You know, it just might work!
Ok, I admit that wasn’t the formula in every successful episode. Amok Time and Tholian Web, for instance, have Kirk either out of his element or completely out of the picture. And episodes like Miri and The Empath allow characters other than Kirk to make their own heroic sacrifices. But those are blips in a much larger catalogue of nearly a hundred episodes. Films are few and far between. For Kirk to be semi to completely useless in two in a row out of six movies – one third! – is an insane proportion. You may hate Search for Spock (I know I do), but you have to at least respect that it made Kirk the master of his own fate again.