Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

13 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was released in cinemas in 1979, audiences—particularly fans of the original TV series “Star Trek”—were either glad to see the familiar characters again or upset that the movie tried to pass off a sci-fi “experience” rather than an adventure. “Star Trek” was never intended to be an out-of-body experience, like “2001: A Space Odyssey” was, but “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” seemed to forget that “Star Trek” was mainly about ideas, characters, and creativity—not stunning visuals.

Luckily, the following “Star Trek” movie, subtitled “The Wrath of Khan,” put “Star Trek” back to the status quo. The result is not just a satisfying “Star Trek” movie, but in my opinion, one of the best science-fiction films. Period.

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” gave “Star Trek” the certain gusto it needed after the slow pacing of the first movie. The elements that made “Star Trek” special are back, and they’re even updated—the Enterprise looks great this time around, the special effects are better, and the occasional drama is even somewhat heavier. The result is a strong piece of work. And of course, the “Star Trek” characters—the crew of the Starship USS Enterprise—are back and still as likable as they were on the show. We have the egotistical but likable Capt. James T. Kirk (now promoted to “Admiral”), his loyal half-Vulcan (and half-human) friend Spock (Leonard Nimoy), skeptical and arrogant Dr. Bones McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and the four memorable flight crew members—Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Chekov (Walter Goenig), Sulu (George Takei), and Scott (James Doohan).

I understand that “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is necessarily a sequel to a first season episode of the show (“Space Seed,” unseen by me). It features the villainous Khan (Ricardo Montalban), who long ago was marooned on a desert planet by Kirk. Since then, his brilliant mind has crossed with insanity. He and his leftover crew members/followers have found a way to escape, and all that’s on his mind is revenge. He hijacks a Federation starship, tortures newly appointed crew member Chekov and his captain Terrell (Paul Winfield), and steals a new project called Genesis, created by Kirk’s ex-lover Carol (Bibi Besch) and David (Merritt Butrick), the son Kirk hasn’t met yet. Genesis was created as a way of creating new life on barren planets, though if proven wrong, it could be used as a doomsday weapon. With Khan in possession of it, it’s up to the Enterprise crew to save the day.

There’s a lot of creativity flowing through the storyline of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” In particular, the Genesis device is quite intriguing in the way it can be used for either regeneration or Armageddon, there’s a frightening subplot involving parasitic creatures that Khan uses to torture Chekov and Terrell, and there’s an epic space battle near the end that’s very enjoyable.

Ricardo Montalban creates a terrific villain as Khan—an intelligent person driven to madness and crime by isolation and betrayal. He wants to kill Kirk, but more terrifyingly, he realizes that when Kirk and his crew may be stranded somewhere, it’s actually better to make them suffer as he and his own crew did. Characterization aside, Montalban has a unique, slimy delivery that helps make Khan a strong and chilling villain.

The conversations/bantering between the Enterprise crew is fun, and leads to some nice character development, such as how Spock is becoming more human and how Kirk goes through a middle-age crisis. William Shatner is strong in the role of Kirk, mixing gallantry with vulnerability. DeForest Kelley as McCoy still has winning sardonic one-liners, and Leonard Nimoy is comfortable in the role of Spock—Nimoy really sells an important scene near the end, and the less said about that, the better. A surprise in the cast of heroes for this movie—Kirstie Alley, of TV’s “Cheers,” acquits herself nicely in the new role of Vulcan recruit Saavik. She has a handful of scenes to steal.

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is a well-executed, wonderful adventure that not only would delight fans of the original series, but also people who aren’t affiliated and would just appreciate an entertaining sci-fi film. The heroes are appealing, the villain is intriguing, the imagination is existent, the story moves quickly, and we’re met with real tension along the way.

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