With the aid of the Enterprise crew, Admiral Kirk must stop an old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh, from using his son’s life-generating device, the Genesis Device, as the ultimate weapon.
Year 1, Day 315
BEFORE: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is another of the films I have seen previously. It’s also highly regarded to be the best film in the Star Trek series with the famous line uttered by Captain Kirk. My memories of this are fond as well, but that wasn’t a good thing for The Motion Picture.
AFTER: The Kobayashi Maru test (also seen in Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek) tests Starfleet officers in a no-win scenario and opens up The Wrath of Khan. In many ways this sums up the entire film: life, death, and the journey to each of them. Above all else, this singular element is what makes The Wrath of Khan such a great film.
For starters, you have wonderful and incredibly complex characters first seen in the episode “Space Seed” in season one of The Original Series. From these characters emerges a natural and gripping story about betrayal, revenge, and friendship. There are two main parts to the film, both of which begin unraveling in parallel but then join up at about the halfway point. The first side is Starfleet led by Admiral Kirk (William Shatner), Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) among the other recurring crew. Here you have the deeply emotional side. You see not only the joy and happiness of Kirk and Spock’s relationship, but also how strongly they care for one another. The flip side of this is the villian, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán), who after being exiled by Kirk wants to exact his revenge and ruin Kirk’s life. Natural is how I would describe the story that comes from these characters. While probable is not a good word (the situations can be a bit hyperbolic even for a futuristic sci-fi film), natural is in the sense that the characters act as they should and the events that occur follow a sensible path.
Life and death may be common themes, and even overused. But The Wrath of Khan is special. Not only does it take the time to explore what these concepts really mean by applying them to “real-life” examples (by which I mean in what way they affect Kirk and Spock), but the film also comes full-circle by the end. My first viewing I don’t recall being that impressed by the thematic elements; it just happened to be a thrilling film with some action thrown in. This second time, after already knowing what happens in the story, I saw things differently. From the first scene, they begin foreshadowing the ending, bringing up little minor details (like Kirk’s eyeglasses for example) that all seem inconsequential at the moment, but after the big turn at the end take on a whole new meaning. It’s not because of what physically happens in the film (what is probably a well-known spoiler but alas, one I will not explicitly state here), but the impact the events have on the viewer after putting all the piece together. It’s masterfully written, organized, and constructed and a job well-done on the large scale.
However, despite a fantastic story replete with top-notch characters and thought-provoking themes, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan doesn’t quite hit that all-out, unconditional “Wow! Drop everything you’re doing and go watch this film now!” level of entertainment. While it has all those things going for it, one thing it doesn’t have is energy. If you do watch the movie and invest your time and attention to it, you’ll see all those wonderful things I listed above. But it doesn’t have the quality that can draw you in just from a glance over your shoulder. And even when you do devote yourself to the film, this lack, or rather low level, of energy doesn’t automatically carry you through the whole thing; there’s always that part that wants to quit because it’s just not interesting enough. But I recommend glossing over those last few sentences and stick with the real message of this review: The Wrath of Khan is one you should watch and probably deserves its place in the upper echelon of Trek lore.
RATING: 4 out of 5