Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Release Date: June 4th, 1982 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Nicholas Meyer Actors: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalban
n the 23rd century, the starship Enterprise, captained by Lieutenant Saavik (Kirstie Alley), heads for a training exercise. But when a distress call forces the commander to break from protocol and enter the Neutral Zone, Klingon attack cruisers immediately pounce upon the unsuspecting vessel. With the treaty violated, it’s only a matter of seconds before torpedoes are fired and most of the Enterprise crew is killed.
Of course, this is only a test of Saavik’s skills. And she fails. Into this simulation walks Admiral Kirk (William Shatner), smug as ever, spouting criticisms of the lieutenant’s choices. His very first line is laugh-out-loud hysterical, projecting from a backlit corridor that immerses his figure in shadows. It’s always difficult to take Shatner seriously, but these kinds of dramatic entrances make it just that much more ridiculous.
Later that day, which is coincidentally Kirk’s birthday, friend and doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley) suggests that the admiral get back the command of the Enterprise, as his new career of supervising and training others has dulled his zest for life. Meanwhile, Commander Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) of the starship Reliant investigate the remains of a dilapidated dwelling on desert world Ceti Alpha V, only to come across Khan (Ricardo Montalban), the product of 20th century genetic engineering – and a former tyrant from Earth. This superhuman person has been marooned on the barren sand heap of a planet for 15 years, along with a handful of other survivors from the Botany Bay cryogenic freeze, after having attempted to kill Kirk and capture his ship a number of years ago, resulting in official exile (this jumble of origins explanations exists to catch viewers up, in the event that they don’t remember – or never saw – the lone episode from the ’60s [“Space Seed”] in which Khan made his debut [an episode that wasn’t all that impressive to begin with]).
Although many of Khan’s people perished to the only indigenous life – a parasite that enters the ear and wraps itself around the cerebral cortex – they have since captured and bred these “brain bugs,” which they now use as a means of manipulating outsiders. Anyone unlucky enough to touch down on the planet automatically becomes their enemy – as well as a potential source of transportation away from the godforsaken rock. When Khan recognizes Chekov, he decides to use the Starfleet officer to communicate with the nearby civilian project Genesis, a scientific research laboratory, under the control of Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), to exact his revenge (or his wrath) against Kirk.
It’s only the second “Star Trek” feature, yet the music has already shifted back from the new theme (which “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would repurpose a few years later) to a blend of the original ’60s title tune and James Horner’s additives. It’s a strangely calm, unexciting credit sequence, far removed from the energetic opening of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” just three years earlier. As if to establish a trend, this follow-up also features a lengthy sequence of the Enterprise dramatically leaving its dock, pushing the idea that this simple propulsion into a proper mission is a substantial event.
“Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we’re all dead!” When the action gets going, it’s quite competent. It’s still riddled with unintentional humor, particularly as Khan and Kirk squabble, trade insults, and struggle to one-up each other’s strategies, but genuine suspense is derived from the space battles and near-death scenarios. Shatner’s dialogue and deliveries can’t help but to be goofy, deflecting the seriousness of many of the situations, but his various tricks and maneuvers, aided by the always dependable and logical Spock (Leonard Nimoy), are thoroughly amusing.
While many of the “Star Trek” movies tend to be little more than a television episode idea drawn out into feature length, “The Wrath of Khan” takes a slightly different approach, expanding upon an already released episode to cater significantly to longtime fans. The Genesis Project provides padding for this concept, though the universally understandable notion of an old nemesis refusing to give up on simple revenge occupies the bulk of the story. Khan isn’t exactly a great villain, but at least his diabolical enthusiasm is memorable, and the finale certainly includes a notable (but certainly not permanent) casualty.
– Mike Massie