When people say they don’t like Star Trek they’re wrong. By default even if you haven’t watched the movie yet, you love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This is by far the easiest first step into what Trek fans would consider proper Star Trek, which doesn’t count the recent J.J. Abrams directed and produced movies, despite being jolly fun but not quite faithful to the original TV series values, for better or worse.
Wrath of Khan points the camera away from the aliens, free from overbearing prime directive semantics and thrusts us into some grand sci-fi action, revenge and pathos. The first thing the movie does right is re-introduce all these characters from the original series, establishing their arcs right away, at least for the main players, Kirk, Bones and Spock (one of only two sentient aliens in the film). Khan’s opening to the movie is the best however, running down some much needed exposition for how they were exiled to Ceti Alpha V by Kirk (from the original series) then after Ceti Alpha VI exploded it turned Ceti Alpha V into a desert planet wiping out much of Khan’s following, including his wife. Khan commandeers the federation vessel the Reliant and goes after Kirk.
This is the most strongly put together script for a Star Trek film, some films in the franchise can be too flabby, overly long, and dull. Wrath of Khan is wonderfully structured, hitting each plot beat with precision. Even when parts seem like stupid character mistakes, they end up reinforcing their characterisation. There’s a lot of dry witty banter as well, mostly coming from Bones, but also from Spock who after years of service with Kirk has come to better understand subtle social cues that his Vulkan upbringing never taught him.
There’s some great pockets of speculative and just straight up hard science-fiction. Like when Ceti Alpha VI exploded, it causes Ceti Alpha V’s orbit to shift, leading to the ecosystems destruction. The main plot deals with a scientific project called the “Genesis Device”, basically a bomb capable of detonating onto a lifeless satellite like our moon, and transforming it into a liveable planet with an ecology, magnetic field and atmosphere. This leads to a great argument between Bones and Spock that deals with the dichotomy of such a device, one that can create life and begin anew on any barren rock, while also being a frightening weapon of mass destruction. You can bet that Khan is trying to get his claws onto it.
More than the science, more than the humour and action, Wrath of Khan is a surprisingly tender film. As Kirk is dealing with an old foe who he once fought and tried to help, he is also battling himself. Is he too old for this? He always found a way to win at any cost, but will he pay the ultimate price this time? This film deals with some deeply tragic and tearful moments that feel completely earned, even if those moments are undone by the sequels.
Wrath of Khan was a brilliant spectacle of an action movie, a great piece of sci-fi, a great drama, even to this day it’s a great movie Star Trek or not. This is why the film should be seen, regardless of your feelings towards the Television series or the movies. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remembered it needed to work as a movie first, and then focus on being Star Trek later.
Dir: Nicholas Meyer
Scr: Jack B. Sowards, Nicholas Meyer
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalban, Ike Eisenmann
Prd: Robert Sallin, William F. Phillips
DOP: Gayne Rescher
Music: James Horner
Run Time: 116 mins
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Director’s Cut is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now.