Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) Directed by Nicholas Meyer. With William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban, DeForest Kelley, Kirstie Alley, James Doohan and Paul Winfield.
It’s a widely held opinion that Star Trek II is the best of the series to date. That said, by comparison, Star Trek: The Motion Picture would make any film look like a classic. In the three-years since we last met up with the crew of the Enterprise, they’ve all gone away and rediscovered their personalities. Gone are the achingly dull salutes to Kubrick’s 2001, replaced by a tone more fitting for that of adventure and excitement. Straight away, we’re plunged into a battle situation aboard the bridge of a vessel captained by Kirstie Alley, which turns out to be an elaborate training exercise in which all the crew give up their time to role-play over-exaggerated deaths with real-looking explosions and smoke – perhaps a direct response to the portentous tone of its predecessor.
Despite the naff execution of the intro, the idea of the battle simulation becomes relevant later in the plot and in truth, it’s good to see the actors appearing more relaxed and at home in their roles. The idea for Star Trek II takes its roots from an episode in the 1960’s television show entitled ‘Space Seed‘, reintroducing the title character of Khan (Ricardo Montalban). With his new romantic wig and pumped-up chest muscles, Khan is exactly what Star Trek needed – a charismatic villain with a purpose, fuelled by an unhealthy vendetta against William Shatner’s Captain Kirk.
As well as a strong antagonist, Star Trek II is more satisfying thanks to its underlying themes confronting ageing, death and friendship. It does what all good sequels should do, taking the existing characters and building on them and their relationships. It also remembers why people love Star Trek, returning to a more action-orientated storyline while retaining the darker look of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
As with all these films, the acting is a mixed bag of good and laughable. Walter Koenig has never been able to convincingly string a sentence together, while Kirstie Alley’s Saavik sounds like a parody of a Vulcan, rather than an actual one. James Horner’s main theme isn’t as swashbuckling as Jerry Goldsmith’s, but it still fits the piece well. Due to the high budget of Star Trek: The Motion Picture ($35m), many of the sets and props were re-used to keep the budget from spiralling, which allows ‘Khan’ to retain a sense of visual continuity.
The final third boldly goes where no Trek adventure has gone before or since, by adding a real dramatic punch. I won’t spoil it for any new viewers, but there is an unexpected weight of emotion that explains why this instalment above all is considered the greatest ‘Trek’ ever made. 3.5/5