Directed by Nicholas Meyer.
1982. Rated PG, 113 minutes.
No, I’ve never dressed in costume or went to conventions. Still, I was a bit of a Trekkie as a youth. I used to watch re-runs of the original series nearly every weeknight at 11 PM. I never could get into any of the spin-offs that followed years later, but Cpt. James Tiberius Kirk was always my guy. One of my favorite episodes featured Ricardo Montalban, AKA the guy from Fantasy Island, as Khan. He was one of the coolest villains in the show’s history. The episode ends with Khan, and some of his cohorts, being banished to a planet with no hope of getting off. I’ve left out some details which the movie will re-cap for you since it knows the gap between when this show first aired and when Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan hit theaters is so great many in the audience will have either never seen it, heard of it, or plain just can’t remember what happened. Now thirty plus years since the movie came out, that’s certainly the case.
We pick things up with my guy, now an Admiral since Star Trek: The Motion Picture, very unhappy with his job’s lack of excitement. This means, Adm. Kirk (Shatner) spends the early parts of the movie longing for the days of galaxy hopping and banging green chicks. His nostalgia is only worsened by the fact he’s about to go on a three week rip on his beloved Enterprise, but it’s only a training exercise. Meanwhile, one of Kirk’s former subordinates, Mr. Chekov (Koenig), lands on a barren planet with his new leader, Cpt. Terrell (Winfield). Much to their chagrin, they run into Khan and his ragtag bunch of survivors. As he is happy to remind us, Khan possesses a superior intellect, therefore he recognizes Chekov and remembers him as a member of Kirk’s crew. In short order, he devises a plan to exact his revenge against James T. Luckily for Kirk, when he has to spring into action he has some familiar faces on-board: Spock (Nimoy), Bones (Kelley), Scotty (Doohan), Sulu (Takei), and Uhura (Nichols), along with a bunch of fresh faced youngsters. Among the kids on the crew is young Kirstie Alley as Saavik, a Vulcan in training to become commander of her own starship.
The movie plays out as a chess match between Kirk and Khan. I know that doesn’t sound thrilling, but this is a fun movie. William Shatner plays things surprisingly subdued, but does get into his signature over-the-top style during verbal confrontations with his adversary. On the other hand, Ricardo Montalban’s performance is so deliciously hammy it’s not to be resisted. This guy doesn’t just chew scenery, he devours it large chunks at a time. How he wasn’t cast more often in villainous roles is beyond me. Trust me, anyone who can make Shatner appear restrained is doing big things.
While The Motion Picture feels like an overly long and boring love letter to the USS Enterprise, this feels like an actual episode of the show. That’s because lots of things the series was known for, good and bad/cheesy, are present in Wrath of Khan. There is a certain charm to seeing Kirk and company thrash around in an effected manner when their ship has been hit. Ditto for seeing some poor sap instantly drop to the floor when Spock grabs his shoulder. Spock himself provides us with was certainly, at the time, and is probably still the most shocking moment in franchise history. It gives us a jolt because it goes against the rules of the franchise. Precisely for that reason, it works wonderfully. It elevates what was a good ST flick to being arguably the best cinematic entry in the canon.
MY SCORE: 8/10