STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan is one of my all time favorites and I have to say I enjoy it just as much now as I did in a theater in 1982… maybe more with the added nostalgia and that it retains it’s status as the best of the Star Trek movies even with the addition of J.J. Abrams’ fun reboot series. The film is a direct sequel to a first season episode entitled Space Seed where Kirk and crew find a 20th century Earth genetic superman in suspended animation with his crew on an unregistered space vessel. He’s thawed out and identified as Khan Noonien Singh a genetically engineered tyrant who, with his followers, nearly conquered Earth in the 1990s. He tried to take command of the Enterprise and kill Kirk but, was thwarted and he and his followers were sent into exile on a deserted planet. The film picks up 15 years later with a ship, The Reliant, accidentally happening upon Khan (Richardo Montalban reprising his classic role), and the remaining members of his crew, while searching for a lifeless planet to test a planetary terraforming device on called Genesis. Khan, who is now mad with vengeance as the explosion of his world’s sister planet has ravaged his home and killed his wife, takes the ship and plans to use Genesis as a weapon of revenge against now ‘Admiral’ James T. Kirk (William Shatner). Lured into a confrontation and badly damaged, The Enterprise and it’s valiant crew must somehow find a way to stop Khan from using the Genesis Device to commit ‘universal armageddon’… and caught in the middle are the creators of the device, a former lover of Kirk’s (Bibi Besch) and a son, David (Merritt Butrick) he’s never met. Khan, as directed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer, corrects basically all of Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s mistakes by returning Star Trek’s sense of adventure and action and making it’s character’s 3 dimensional again. Where ST:TMP ignored the fact that the characters where now over a decade older, STII:TWOK makes their aging part of the story. Kirk is celebrating his 50th birthday and dealing with issues of his new earthbound rank when his heart still belongs in the captain’s chair. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is training a new crew to take over the Enterprise with our beloved crew members assisting in shaping their eventual replacements. Khan himself once a vicious but, noble warrior who graciously accepted Kirk’s decision to let him have his own world to build instead of imprisonment, is now a madman who seeks revenge at any cost. Meyer takes our beloved characters and gives them legendary status working in themes from classic literature like Moby Dick, Horatio Hornblower and Tale Of Two Cities… and gives the Enterprise a charming Naval feel as opposed to the antiseptic and cold feeling the previous film imbued it with. And added to the richness of story and character are some thrilling and suspenseful space battles that evoke some of the classic submarine movies like Run Silent, Run Deep. Assisting Meyer is a cast that brings their famous characters vibrantly to life once more. Shatner may get flak for his over the top performances but, here he is at the top of his game and gives one of his best performances as an aging warrior forced once more to battle against the odds and possibly face mortality for the first time. Nimoy plays an older, wiser Spock who is happy to be molding the next generation and has mellowed a bit allowing him to show a slightly warmer side… or dare I say more human. Deforest Kelley is as cranky as ever as Bones but, this is one character we don’t want to change a bit and he hasn’t. Montalban takes Khan and turns him into a vengeful madman who is still fiercely intelligent and ruthless but, now on the brink of madness with revenge, a foe even more dangerous now that he would destroy James T. Kirk at all costs including that of his own people. A classic character is now made larger then life by a veteran actor knowing when to show the cunning villain and when to unleash the madman. And Meyer gives him some great dialog to chew on. The rest of the classic Trek cast all do well in reviving their beloved characters though I will admit Walter Koenig’s Chekov has a few moments that spill into camp but, the character always was very emotional. Bibi Besch is fine and sexy as Dr. Marcus, Kirk’s old flame. Butrick doesn’t quite cut a figure we’d expect of Kirk’s son but, we can forgive this as it’s part of the story that his mother didn’t want him to grow up like dear old dad. Kirstie Alley made her acting debut as Spock’s protegee’ Lt. Saavik a vulcan officer following in his footsteps and her characterization made her instantly beloved by fans who were equally disappointed when she didn’t return in Star Trek III. Rounding out the main cast is Paul Winfield as The Reliant’s Captain Terrell who makes the best of giving some character to a limited role. I won’t pretend the film doesn’t have faults, it does. There are obvious flaws in it’s science and their are inconstancies, one being that the Chekov character didn’t join the show till season 2 so, Khan should not have known him. The film was made on a low budget so, the sets are cheap looking and a lot are borrowed and redressed from ST:TMP and while the ILM FX are fine, a lot of FX early in the film are also borrowed from ST:TMP and it’s a little obvious. But, the biggest flaw is that Kirk and Khan never meet face to face, all their confrontations are done by radio or on view screen and these two actors at their best, never get to be in the same room together and that’s a shame. But, all it’s flaws can be forgiven as this is just a real fun flick and is classic Star Trek at it’s best… both in spirit and in the portrayal of it’s characters. It’s a film that elevated the characters from heroes to legends and has an old fashioned swashbuckling tone that seems to be gone from films today. It’s a classic flick now made even more fun by the nostalgia it has picked up and is a movie that has charm to spare. An all time favorite and a great movie even with it’s flaws. Also stars regulars James Doohan as Engineer Scott, George Takei as Helmsman Sulu and Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura with Ike Eisenmann playing Scotty’s nephew Ensign Preston, a new character. STII also features a great score by James Horner and is pretty much the movie that put him on the path to becoming one of the best film score composers out there today. A classic!