Jammer's Review

"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"


Theatrical release: 6/4/1982
PG; 1 hr. 56 min.
Screenplay by Jack B. Sowards
Story by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards
Produced by Robert Sallin
Directed by Nicholas Meyer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

August 15, 2002

Kirk stares at the reading glasses with a certain trepidation, looking upon his birthday gift on the cusp of brooding.

"Dammit, Jim, what the hell's the matter with you?" grumbles McCoy. "Other people have birthdays. Why are we treating yours like a funeral?"

The moment comes in an early scene that represents one of the most important decisions made at the outset of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan — and one of the most important decisions in the entire Star Trek canon. These characters — who became iconic and generally simplified throughout the episodic TV run (as well as Star Trek: The Motion Picture) — have suddenly become real people with real fears. Their limitations, human vulnerability, and the realization of their mortality come crashing down on us. We realize that Kirk has become the microcosm of an aging institution: The Star Trek franchise has grown older, and knows that its subjects must as well.

Bones bluntly tells Kirk that it was a mistake he let Starfleet kick him upstairs into the bureaucratic admiral's desk job, and that he should get back his command as soon as possible, "before you become part of this collection — before you really do grow old." Later, in the aftermath of a surprise attack, Kirk will reluctantly put on these glasses so he can read a computer console. He won't want to do it (amusingly muttering "damn" under his breath), but he'll do it anyway.

Star Trek II is often heralded as the best of the Trek films, and for good reason. Here's the Trek movie that joins epic sci-fi with straightforward simplicity; serious intentions with the winks of irreverence; and sincere emotional payoffs within the structural confines of a scenery-chewing popcorn revenge picture. Why does this work? For one, it has an engaging story that rarely labors. But in the final analysis, I think it comes down to the issue orbiting Kirk — the fact that aging has given him the realization that life is perhaps not as simple as he once thought it was. A crucial decision Spock makes at the end of the film will cement this fact.

In the DVD commentary, director Nicholas Meyer says that his original title of the film was Star Trek II: The Undiscovered Country. It's a title that would not be used (though it would eventually resurface for Meyer's return to the franchise in Star Trek VI), but it would've made a lot of sense here. The undiscovered country in Hamlet is death, and that's exactly what much of Star Trek II serves as a reminder of (also life, which is presented as the flip side of the same coin, which it is).

The movie begins and ends on notes that remind us that things are not the way they used to be. If the TV series was self-contained and episodic, Star Trek II argues for a film series that would take on a new tone where actions have consequences, characters become more complicated, and movies are chapters rather than episodes. As the story's opening minutes show an aging Kirk who feels painfully old even though he may not be, the closing minutes show him somewhat rejuvenated, but only after paying a costly price.

Time has not stood still. Kirk now instructs a new generation of rookies who will crew the relaunch of the Enterprise under Spock's command. Chekov has moved on to first officer of the Reliant. But even if time has marched forward, Kirk and his crew find themselves plagued by a figure from Kirk's past — the obsessive Khan, who wants his revenge ... served as cold as possible.

If the beginning and end of the film serve as a meditation on mortality and the passage of time, the middle is more an exercise in storytelling simplicity. Khan is not a particularly complex character, which is part of what makes him effective. His exile has embittered him beyond all reason; he simply blames Kirk and takes his thirst for vengeance to the point of monomania. "He tasks me," Khan says to his most trusted lieutenant. "He tasks me, and I shall have him." He steals the Reliant and cleverly stages a crisis to lure the Enterprise into a trap. He also hopes to gain control of Project Genesis, an experimental science intended to create life, but with the potential side effects of an Armageddon weapon.

Khan is still the best and most memorable of the Star Trek villains, in no small part because of Ricardo Montalban's performance, which has just the right balance of obsessive quirkiness and scaled-back restraint. Khan's dialog is colorful and entertaining; like all great villains, he's often even more fun to watch than what's going on around him, as when he gloats to Kirk about beating him. Montalban doesn't go overboard, but rather just far enough; if it's scenery chewing (and sometimes it is), it's of the most effective kind.

Khan's surprise attack on the Enterprise reveals Kirk at his most trusting and least cautious, and it's a mistake that hangs over Kirk's head for much of the movie. Refreshing, how the story presents Kirk as human and fallible; we can sympathize with his dilemma. When Scotty's nephew dies from battle injuries, it's a human toll for Kirk that's not only a result of Khan's deviousness but also Kirk's own command decisions.

The cat-and-mouse games involving the two ships provide plenty of interest. One of the most satisfying scenes comes when Kirk and Spock use the Reliant's prefix code to drop its shields in what is to Khan a counterstrike as surprising as the attack he launched upon the Enterprise. There's also the final hunt through the murky Mutara Nebula — still a virtuoso sequence — which seamlessly integrates special effects into the story, supplying enough tension and suspense to play as a good submarine movie. The effects hold up well, in part because they are straightforward rather than elaborate, and because the Enterprise retains the scale and elegance it had in the first film: Rather than darting through the frame like a fighter jet, it's a huge ship that moves slowly. I like that the battle sequences are characterized by big ships that look as if they must tack in order to turn. James Horner's terrific score (for this film as well as the third installment) is perhaps the franchise's best overall (with all due respect to Jerry Goldsmith); I'd still like to see Horner return to score a Trek film.

To many, where Star Trek: The Motion Picture went astray was in its efforts to deliver an epic sci-fi story at the expense of character interaction when what most people wanted to see were the familiar characters in a story that was suited to the Star Trek universe. This is, in short, precisely what The Wrath of Khan seeks to set right and why it remains the generally regarded favorite. Fans want to see scenes like the one where Spock and McCoy argue philosophical points over Project Genesis — a classic, if brief, Spock/Bones exchange if I've ever seen one. Similarly, Kirk and Spock have a scene that resonates early in the film, where Spock famously explains that "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" — a philosophy that, at the end, he will apply in practice with the utmost Vulcan logical detachment.

The film also develops Kirk in ways we were perhaps not expecting. We learn not only about his qualms with age but of his past with Carol Marcus and the fact that they have a son, David — who doesn't much like Kirk today. Shatner is often derided for his penchant for overacting. (Indeed, one of my all-time favorite franchise moments of melodramatic camp comes in this movie when Kirk shouts "KHAAAAAN!" into his communicator.) But it should be noted that Shatner gives one of his best performances in this movie. He's restrained and credible in his most crucial scenes, like the one with Carol inside the Regula tunnels where Kirk quietly takes stock of his situation regarding David and ponders "my life that could've been."

Also well conceived is the film's running theme on the Kobayashi Maru simulation exam — something that pays off with true story significance. The no-win scenario opens the movie with Saavik at the helm of a simulation that ends in disaster. We're told that back in Kirk's training days he beat the exam. How? By cheating, of course — reprogramming the simulator to make it possible to rescue the survivors. It's of no small irony that Kirk's face-off with Khan forces him to attempt cheating death again for real. He finds, however, that life deals him all-too-real consequences.

This of course brings us to the defining moment in Star Trek II — Spock's decision to sacrifice himself to save the Enterprise from the Genesis Device explosion. It's a decision he's able to reach using pure logic, and yet it's impossible not to be moved by it based on the pure selflessness of his act. Fittingly, by using Vulcan logic, Spock is able to do something that is nothing short of heroically human.

Spock's death would be heartbreaking to anyone familiar with the Trek universe. It's almost unthinkable: How could they kill Spock, perhaps the franchise's most beloved character? Spock's death and subsequent funeral are scenes that manage to generate substantial, genuine emotional power. And it's Shatner who must carry these scenes, because the audience is in Kirk's shoes, saying goodbye to a well-known friend.

It's also through Kirk that we see how Spock's death filters through the movie's other elements, like the Kobayashi Maru scenario: Kirk cheated that scenario but now finds — as he reveals to David — that he was not prepared for such a loss. Even if Kirk doesn't believe in losing, there are indeed no-win scenarios in life. And yet the movie finds for Kirk a sort of personal redemption in the notion that as he loses his friend, he regains his son. And even as Spock lies dying, the Genesis planet is being born; Meyer cuts between this death and birth in a sequence that reinforces the movie's central theme of the cycle and duality of life and death.

Released in 1982 when I was very young, and seen over the years on TV and VHS, The Wrath of Khan is one of those movies where I can't remember a time when I hadn't seen it. For me, this DVD release mainly constitutes a format upgrade (Dolby Digital, widescreen, superior image quality, etc.) and a chance to revisit a film I've seen so many times and know so well.

Unlike last year's reissue of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, this DVD cut sports nothing that qualifies as "significant" in terms of changes from the theatrical cut. The snippets of footage that have been edited back in have already been made available in various TV editions. (Perhaps most noteworthy are those lines that establish the doomed young cadet as being Scotty's nephew, omitted from the theatrical cut.) Considering how few there were, it's a wonder why such brief scenes would be cut from the film in the first place, but restoring these minor points does not represent a significant change. Most (like me) are likely to be attracted to this release because of the restoration and sound mix for DVD, and the separate bonus materials.

But it also provides a chance to look at this film in a little more depth. What I find myself discovering is the Trek film that best captures the spirit of the original cast and series, and a film that by its end even manages to say some things that are somewhat profound.

Previous: Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Next: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

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38 comments on this review

Dan - Mon, Sep 10, 2007 - 6:29am (USA Central)
My first Trek experience in the cinema and I cried like a baby when Spock died. This would be a great film even if you didn't have any emotional attachment to the characters, the fact that we do knocks this way out of the park.
robgnow - Sun, Aug 3, 2008 - 6:47pm (USA Central)
When I first saw this, it was a special treat from my dad, who took me. As Spock lay dying I glanced at him to see tears in his eyes and when we reached Kirk's emotional eulogy (...his was the most... human), I cried, too.
It was embarassing until we reached the bright, sunlit lobby of the theatre and I saw just how many grown men were still wiping at their faces.
This is the most emotionally-resonant that Trek has ever been, and the most devastating. If I'm in the right frame of mind, I can still be moved to tears during Kirk's eulogy (I'm 41 now) even knowing that it all gets 'undone' in the next movie.
Daniel - Mon, May 11, 2009 - 3:38pm (USA Central)
It is a credit to the greatness of this movie that the movie I believe to be the second greatest Star Trek movie, number 11 (second only to this one, of course), achieves part of its impact from skillful borrowing of this movie's terrific material.
I am thinking of the following scene in movie 11: Kirk has been brought before the Commander of Starfleet to address the allegation that he violated an ethical rule by changing the conditions of the Kobayashi Maru test (by installing a subroutine in the test, a test written by Spock, no less), thus allowing him to win the test, and allowing him to escape having to face the no-win scenario.

Kirk, haled before the Commander, demands to confront his accuser (that would be Spock, who programmed the test). The dialogue that ensues is a terrific gloss on the Kobayashi Maru material in film #2: Kirk states (as he did in movie 2) that he does not believe in the no-win scenario (no surprise there), but that the test itself is a cheat, since there is no way to win by playing under its rules. Spcok wryly, with steely annoyance, dismsses this (quite valid) point, stating that Kirk missed the point of WHAT facing a no-win scenario is supposed to impute to a cadet, pedagogically: it is supposed to reveal whether, in the face of certain death, a Captain will freak out, or go down with the ship, or perhaps run...... The problem with the test (and what should have been Kirk's rejoinder) is that life is not a simulation, and the test does not play out exactly the same way for all who take it (some get further along than others, presumably; this variable makes the existence of a valid control group impossible; we will never know how ANY would-be captain X would respond to situation Y, as opposed to how Captain Z would). This does not mean the test has no instructive value, but points to the fact (part of Kirk's unspoken argument) that the test is flawed.
What a delight to see this discourse in movie 11 - a discourse that extends and enriches a subtle philosophical discussion that in film II ultimately manifested it dramatically.
But if the concept of the test were not already established - if Meyer (who did an uncredited re-write of the entire script) did not place it there, there would be nothing to add upon. Bravi ti hun for having come up with a script of such intelligent and accessible construction
David - Tue, Mar 9, 2010 - 8:09am (USA Central)
IMHO,it was a mistake to kill Spock at the end of this wonderful movie. This set the stage for the third movie, which I think was a weak movie. The Voyage Home could have been done either way.
Matt - Mon, Aug 30, 2010 - 11:37am (USA Central)
1982 was an amazing year for the science fiction/fantasy genre as it gave us classics such as E.T., Blade Runner, The Dark Crystal, The Secret of NIMH, Poltergeist, & (Carpenter's) The Thing.
Not all of these made money at the box office, but all of them have become classics that have stood the test of time.
In the midst of this very formidable competition came this great film, which not only set the course (if you'll pardon the pun) for the remaining original series Trek films (of the 4 that followed only the dismal Trek V didn't follow up on the events of "Khan") but also revitalized Trek altogether.
Roddenberry may have been kicked upstairs but he eventually used the clout of the success of Treks II through IV to create TNG (which would've never gotten the green light prior to Trek II). Hence, we have this film to thank for TNG and the following series.
reviewreviewer1 - Fri, Dec 10, 2010 - 9:37pm (USA Central)
I am not enough into Trek yet, and only saw Space Seed, and not this film, and only read about it, so taae this for what it is, but why hasn`t aanyone comented on how this film cheaply ruins the beautifull ope ending of Space Sed, I mean realy?? In the end of Space Seed Kirk and Kahn were respectfull rivals, and we had a beaurifull sense of wonder what would happen too Kahn, and then in II we see, oh uh yeah there was the most implausible, convinient and rare disaster pssible so Kahn suffered instead of livingheapily ever after, and Kahn is Kirk`s rival againm cause Kirk for no reason didn`t check on him,, I mean that is a great hour of t flushed down the toilet if you ask me, who agrees?/?? Also again take this for what it is!!!
Stubb - Wed, May 4, 2011 - 2:48pm (USA Central)
Since we've all beaten this film to death over the past 30 years, I'll only say this: I cannot believe how well this film (and screenplay) have aged. This may be my favorite sci-fi screenplay of all time (not just ST), if only because in over 50 viewings I have yet to find a single element about it that I don't like. From a story, dialogue, and action perspective, it's about as close to perfect as a script can get.
Jay - Sat, Oct 1, 2011 - 5:34pm (USA Central)
Since Kirk knew that rescue was just "hours, not days" away, why did he shriek "Khaaaaaaaan" as if Khan's claim that he was stranded forever was remotely true...was it just for show? It was of course for dramatic effect, but it was also ridiculous.

But that aside, still the best film of the franchise, and I doubt it will ever lose that title.
Jay - Sat, Oct 1, 2011 - 5:38pm (USA Central)
Plus, I hope the fact that Reliant can "outrun us" and "outgun us" (us being the Enterprise) has to do with the lingering damage the flagship suffered, rather than being generally true.
Priestley - Sun, Jan 29, 2012 - 2:02am (USA Central)
Being an ex-Star Trek nerd (now I'm just a nerd), i think Star Trek: The Motion picture and Wrath of Khan somehow recreate the two different approaches to Star Trek taken in the first two TV pilot episodes, The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before. One is cerebral (and maybe even profound) and the other is more action packed and entertaining. As a kid, I loved Khan and hated TMP, but as an adult, I think TMP is genius and Khan rather silly.

You can also see Star Trek 2, 3 and 4 as three parts of the same movie because it involves a continuing storyline.

Er, now I realise why I don't have a girlfriend.
Admiral Archer - Sun, Jan 29, 2012 - 8:51am (USA Central)
I believe that STAR TREK is not simply one thing or another. It is not specifically Science-fiction, nor is it specifically action-adventure. In that sense, I have come to believe that Star Trek is unique on several levels. For instance, I used to think that DS9 and Voyager were not Star Trek, because they were not set on a ship with the name Enterprise, their intros did not include the "To boldly go" monologue, and the general premise of each series was considerably different than what I considered iconic Trek, aka TOS and TNG. However, after thorough consideration, this is not correct. DS9 and Voyager each include special elements and the soul of what made Star Trek so wonderful in the first place.

The same is true with the films. TMP was a much more cerebral film, much more thought provoking and philosophical. TWOK was the traditional swashbuckling Kirk-beats-em-up style film. And to me, which film you like best indicates what you prefer to see in Star Trek. If you prefer TMP, chances are you also prefer more thoughtful, philosophical stories that deal strictly with the human condition. If you prefer TWOK, you enjoy Star Trek for it's unique action-adventure style, and the general family feel of the crew. There are several other parallels; for instance, in the case of pilot episodes,"The Cage" was far more cerebral and thought-provoking, much like TMP; however, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was more about swashbuckling action, and the sense of family that the rest of TOS had. Another similar comparison is, indeed, TOS and TNG. TNG was considered "boring" by many, much like TMP and "The Cage", for the same reasons of more intellectual, philosophical stories. TOS, on the other hand, fits better with stories like "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and TWOK. Depending on which of these types of stories you prefer, you may like Star Trek for varying reasons. I myself tend to lean toward the treaditional Sci-fi type stories, such as The Cage/TMP/TNG, but again, that's just the kind of Star Trek fan that I am.
FanWriter45 - Sun, Jan 29, 2012 - 8:56am (USA Central)
Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer...

They are both great directors. But, being a great director doesn't mean that their Mothers brought them up with something basic, like etiquette and tact. Nick should have been a little more respectful to Mr. Wise.

Yeah, Nick. Your movies will entertain. But Robert's are American Icons. "West Side Story" "The Hindenburg" "The Day the Earth Stood Still" "The Andromeda Strain" among so many others...
Grumpy - Tue, Aug 21, 2012 - 8:11pm (USA Central)
When was Meyer disrespectful to Wise? You know, they did a joint dvd commentary for "The Day the Earth Stood Still," fwiw.

I wonder: if Spock had remained in command (instead of throwing a bone to his friend, still brooding about his birthday), would he have raised shields? How would Khan's surprise attack have played out?
Grumpy - Fri, Jun 7, 2013 - 3:34pm (USA Central)
Stubb: "...in over 50 viewings I have yet to find a single element about it that I don't like."

For #51, pay attention to the scene when Reliant is heading to the first battle. Chekov and Terrell stand in the background... after they should've been left behind at Regula One. And why did Khan leave them as moles anyway? Did he lack confidence in his first attempt to kill Kirk, so he used them as backup? And how did they cross interstellar distances with the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive... er, Enterprise's warp drive inoperative? And Spock's hours/days code is notoriously silly. Plus, the travel pod docks in Engineering but they go aboard in the torpedo bay!

All of which serve as reminders that, as Pauline Kael is credited with sayin, "Great movies are rarely perfect movies."
Paul - Fri, Jun 7, 2013 - 4:04pm (USA Central)
@Grumpy: The Enterprise crew routinely traveled great distances at warp and impulse in TOS and the movies. If you watch Star Trek IV, it seems like they were planning on traveling from Earth to Vulcan on impulse, until they learned of the emergency. TOS and the early movies were not known for good science.

If you really want to identify a flaw in WOK, it's Saavik. Kirstie Alley played the character as a half-Romulan -- that's how it was written. It's why she swears, it's why she cries and it's why Bones (in the turbolift) says "Wonderful thing that Romulan Ale," which makes no sense as the movie was cut.

Why they took out that bit of backstory of Saavik never made much sense to me. She even looks different than most Vulcans. Oh, and in ST: III, Kruge simply calls her a "woman", after he identifies Spock as a Vulcan and David Marcus as a human.

Oh, and why did Scotty bring the dying engineer's assistant to the bridge? Shouldn't he have gone to sick bay?
SPOCKED - Sun, Oct 6, 2013 - 7:55am (USA Central)
My memory of opening day: I was in line for the first show on opening day in Groton, Ct. for TWOK. I remember by the time we arrived any hopes of being first in line were quickly dashed hours before showtime. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and there was a sort of "party" atmosphere which just made the long wait a lot less tedious. As far back as we were, any ability to judge the actual length of the line became impossible (later in the summer I returned for another viewing and found myself at the end of a line that stretched around the side of the building). At some point, when the theater realized they had enough people in line for every scheduled showing, someone came out and asked if we wouldn't mind if they started the first movie immediately... and the massive audience, already in a good mood, roared its approval. Soon after, the line started moving and I was very happy to find that my pals and I had still arrived early enough to make it into the first audience. At 23 years of age and a life long fan of the series, all I knew going into TWOK was that Ricardo Mantalban was reprising his role as Khan, a character from Space Seed I knew very well. My point being, of course, the comparative lack of forehand knowledge and storyline detail. I hadn't even seen a television trailer, if there were any, before arriving. I wasn't "spoiled," in other words. Indeed, I got my first close up look at the movie poster inside the lobby with its few bits of story elements which were just enough to whet my appetite for what was to become the audience participation and movie experience of a lifetime.
K'Elvis - Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - 1:53pm (USA Central)
I've always interpreted Saavik as half-Romulan, even if that part was cut out - just because it wasn't explicitly stated doesn't mean it isn't true. The novelization has her being half-Romulan, and the way Kirstie Alley plays her, it seems there is a lot of barely contained emotion, as if she is only trying - not all that well - to contain her emotions.

Amazing Grace always feels wrong if it is not played on the bagpipes. When we were watching the movie in the theaters, we didn't know that Spock was going to come back, it's a different experience than rewatching today when you know he comes back. Still, even knowing that you just need to watch one more movie to get him back, we can still share in the emotions of the crew. I think it is the little tremble in Sulu's voice that gets to me.
Datalore - Wed, Aug 27, 2014 - 4:18pm (USA Central)
I think the biggest compliment I can give this film is that I've watched it with people who no nothing of Star Trek, and they still enjoy it.

It's not just a great Star Trek movie, it's a great movie!
STEVEN LYLE JORDAN - Thu, Aug 28, 2014 - 4:38pm (USA Central)
We know that Wrath was developed from the original series episode Space Seed, in which Khan and his followers, products of the Eugenics Wars, were discovered in a stolen sleeper ship hundreds of years after they (take note) lost their war to rule Earth. These so-called physical and intellectual supermen then tried to take over the Enterprise, but (again) lost, and were banished by Captain Kirk to a small uninhabited planet “to rule.”

Which should tell you right off that these guys weren't the great s#!+s they thought they were.

Fast-forward about 25 years, to a movie that depicts the Enterprise being used as a training vessel (yeah… for the most celebrated ship in the Federation fleet, and recently refit to-boot, that makes sense), and the Reliant, a survey vessel from the same Federation that is apparently not smart enough to notice that the solar system they’ve entered, which has been mapped by Federation ships before (including the Enterprise) is now missing a planet. In fact, another planet has supposedly been moved out of its original orbit (something else the crew of the Reliant should have noticed), but instead of changing the temperature severely, the planet gets stoopid dust storms. Naturally, they find the surviving members of Khan’s group, but can’t say the words “Beam us out!” fast enough to avoid being captured.

Khan—the leader of “superior intellect”—has responded to the decaying quality of “his” planet, and the death of his non-genetically-improved wife, by apparently going insane, caring about nothing save the death of the man who bested him, James T. Kirk… even if it means the death of the last of his followers in the process. Instead of accepting change and hardship, he’s gone from super-intelligent leader to vengeful sociopath despot.

A great deal of my angst over this movie is in its bad story and sloppy editing, leaving characters hollow and pointless, and diminishing any salient story points to utter twaddle:

- Saavik has her part Romulan heritage left on the cutting room floor (yeah, didn’t know she was supposed to be half-Romulan… did ya?);
- Characters like Scotty’s nephew become nameless footnotes, lessening the impact of their later death scenes and wasting perfectly good pathos;
- Chekov and Terrell can’t just beam out of Khan’s world before Khan’s guys can cross a few dozen yards of sand to catch them;
- Khan “remembers” Chekov, despite the fact that they never met in the original Trek episode;
- Khan, the man of “superior intellect,” apparently responded to the loss of his wife and the change in his planet by going insane with thoughts of revenge on Kirk… but none of his “superior” followers, including his son, have the stones to explain his obsession to him, or take steps to prevent their all being destroyed by the man;
- “Superior intellect” Khan on the Reliant could have had earworm-controlled Captain Terrell greet Enterprise and bring them within transporter range; whereupon Khan could have beamed over with his crew, taken over a superior starship and killed Kirk and crew personally. Instead, he pulls a sneak attack with a science vessel against a heavy cruiser, which he doesn’t know isn’t staffed by a shipful of professionals. The man exhibits the plotting ability of Daffy Duck.
- Khan’s son is the only one of the baddies group, other than Khan, who utters a word through the entire movie (besides “Aaugh!” when the Reliant is attacked—apparently genetic supermen make great redshirts);
- Khan’s followers are no better than slabs of meat (even the women), and in the end, we feel nothing about their being blown up… even Khan’s son’s death elicits no more than a yawn from the audience;
- We discover Kirk had fathered a son and never met him, nor kept in touch with him or his mother… and we’re supposed to actually care;
- The scientists are smart enough to hide the Genesis device on what appears to be a lifeless moon. The scientists then demonstrate they are not smart enough to hide with the device;
- One of the worms Khan dropped in Chekov’s ear could have been dropped into the ear of just one of the scientists in order to find the genesis device, preventing the need to torture the rest of them.

At the end, Starfleet-hater David tells Kirk that he’s “proud to be your son.” Why? All Kirk did was show up too late to save his scientist friends, beat up his son upon their first meeting, best Khan by conning him into making bad strategic decisions, get his ship beat to hell and a few random trainees killed or traumatized for life, and lose his best friend while saving his own skin. What’s to be so proud of?

And let’s face it, the whole Moby Dick theme (with lines from Melville’s book intentionally altered to use celestial references that Khan couldn’t possibly know) is just mondo lame… even when it’s presented by Ricardo Montalban, the one man in the universe who seems to be able to out-overact William Shatner.

Throughout, we suffer through cheap cinematic gags, like the radio dialog obviously written to make sure the slower viewers can follow the action from one scene to another; horror-movie shtick like Bones being distracted by a loose lab rat (Federation scientists still use lab rats?), then backing into the bloody dangling arms of a scientist, accompanied by a bloody close-up and embarrassingly-cliche “boo!” musical cue; the (eww!) worm-in-the-ear bit; the big ancient book and granny-glasses as elephant-obvious metaphors for how old Kirk and crew are getting; and the ridiculous new Star Fleet uniforms, obviously designed to look good in technicolor, maybe in a dress parade, and when a cadet wants to leave a bloody handprint on the breast, but not good for much else.

And I don’t even want to get into the most blatant sci-fi gag, the only thing more predictable than a death of a Star Trek redshirt: The death of a Black man in a science fiction movie; not to mention that Black man being Paul Winfield, the single most doomed Black man in SF movie history! The only cinematic gag I appreciated was James Horner’s music, which was tailor-made for dramatic presentations like this (all the same, you could make a drinking game out of the signature musical elements Horner loves to reuse, in every SF and adventure movie he does).

So, we come to the part that everyone says is the best part of the movie: The starship fights. Okay, considering this is the first time in the history of the franchise that we see the Enterprise (or any other starship in the Trek franchise) taking serious modern-special-effects battle damage, the battles were notable and memorable. Beyond that… meh. We see two starships close enough to spit at each other, but which still miss each other with regularity. We see those ships in a nebula, in reality a collection of mass and gasses that are spaced light-years apart… but here, a nebula is depicted like a technicolor fog bank a few miles wide. We get the whole “Khan displays two-dimensional thinking” bit, and we’re supposed to buy the premise that a “superior intellect” leader who could rule a world (albeit temporarily), steal away on a sleeper ship, steal a starship, who has presumably thought about attacking and killing Kirk for many moons, who knows how space works, and who’s probably heard of submarines, has never figured out three-dimensional warfare. We see the old TV-series holdover of having bridge equipment blow up when a piece of ship dozens of decks away gets hit with a phaser blast… so you know they’re connected.

And finally, we have the Tech-Of-The-Day, a device the size of a man that can change the life-potential of entire planets; and the stereotypical “countdown to disaster” when the genesis device is started—but they never just go off, do they? No, we have to suffer a melodramatic countdown for it to happen. But the Enterprise is crippled… oh noes! Will they die? No, because Spock manages to get the engines fixed mere seconds before it’s too late. Whew. And oh, yeah, Spock is now going to die of radiation poisoning. On a ship that runs on antimatter, in which everyone in engineering is dressed like the Michelin Man to protect them from something, but no one goes where Spock dares to tread without a suit, and after we’ve seen radiation sicknesses cured with hyposprays in episodes of the original series…

You see where this is going, I’m sure. Khan isn’t consistent to Star Trek, not the original series et al nor the particular episode in which it was birthed. It’s not consistent with science fiction, not even the Trek brand of sci-fi. And on top of that, it’s just not well put-together cinematically. Everything in this movie just comes off as being contrived in order to push some incredibly obvious emotional buttons, while ignoring how much (or little) sense they make. It’s showy, it’s pretty, it has more colorful Star Fleet uniforms… and it’s stupid. It’s about as realistic as The Blues Brothers, complete with stupid Nazis.

And this is the movie that fans declare is the best Trek film ever.

IqnaH QaD. (Go look it up.)

It’s funny how Trek fans, who like to proclaim the intellectual superiority of their program of choice, are amazingly unsophisticated when it comes to their preferred Trek movies. The even-numbered movies that most cite as “the best” are in fact the worst when it comes to science fiction realism, Trek continuity and downright story quality. And Khan leads the pack of guilty movies (okay, it’s second, right after The Voyage Home, and barely preceding the disaster right after that, The Final Frontier… but it has the virtue of being iconic of all of them).

The Wrath of Khan was a redshirts movie: Let’s do stupid stuff and beat up on each other, yargh! It was designed to impress Star Wars fans, who (let’s face it) weren’t nearly that concerned with trifles like science and storylines. It was fluff… pure, unadulterated fluff. It was designed to sell tickets and T-shirts (which it did, and very well).

You want good Trek movies? Star Trek: Generations is probably the best, in my opinion; followed by Star Trek: Insurrection. These movies had action, but they also had stories consistent with Trek continuity and the pseudo-science fiction universe that Trek was based within, paid close attention to the established behavior of Trek characters and didn’t go in any phenomenally stupid plot directions. Were they perfect? No; but let’s face it, Star Trek has never been a “perfect” show. But Star Trek has (almost) always had a way to look at the future that was thoughtful, humble and optimistic, and both Generations and Insurrection embodied that attitude.
Grumpy - Thu, Aug 28, 2014 - 7:27pm (USA Central)
Obviously some world-class trolling there. I mean, not everyone has to agree what's good or bad, so when criticism crosses into "anyone who likes this is unsophisticated," there's no other word for it. Trolling. And trolls must not be fed.

I'm reminded of Film Crit Hulk's essay about "tangible details." filmcrithulk.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/hulk-essay-your-ass-tangible-details- and-the-nature-of-criticism/
The point being that lists of reasons for an opinion are usually post-hoc rationalizations. A clue is when the reasons come from outside the text. For instance, "Star Trek II sucks because it ignores Saavik's Romulan heritage" is not an opinion anyone could form while watching the movie.
Grumpy - Thu, Aug 28, 2014 - 7:39pm (USA Central)
...Therefore, anyone who cites that (or similar tangible details) must either 1) have other, unexpressed reasons for holding that opinion or 2) does not sincerely hold that opinion at all. Thus, trolling. But it inspired me to revisit the "tangible details" essay, so it's not all bad.
Elliott - Fri, Aug 29, 2014 - 11:42am (USA Central)
@Grumpy ;

I happen to think the majority of Steven's claims are overstated to the point of losing whatever original point he was trying to make, but that does not make him a troll. TWoK is a really great action movie with excellent characterisation and some very moving scenes, but he's not wrong in saying that it many ways fails to capture the spirit and tone of Star Trek. TWoK is a the perfect Star Trek movie for mass audiences, and that's why, I think, Mr Jordan finds the sci-fi elements of the film to be unsophisticated. And compared to the best Trek film, TMP, he's right!

Now, I can't get behind his claims about the acting, the themes, or character arcs--those were handled extremely well. I also think Generations and Insurrection were fucking awful--though Insurrection at least managed to be more of a Star Trek movie than the action schlock most of the TNG films put out.

I don't like this idea of dismissing the dissenter as a troll.
Robert - Fri, Aug 29, 2014 - 1:08pm (USA Central)
@Elliott - TMP.... best ST film?!!

I will agree with you about TWoK though. It's scifi-lite wrapped into an action movie. But the truth is that after a brilliant sci-fi series you don't want a 2 hour sci-fi movie... what you want is for 2 more hours with characters you love, and the easiest way to do that is to make it a product the masses will like (so the franchise doesn't fall apart) to while still giving the fans their favorite characters.

I actually think that when you try to make something that is truly a sci-fi plot line into a 2 hour movie it ends up losing something (namely you spend so much time on the concept you don't end up with an amazing character piece). Since in the end what I really want is 2 hours with my characters, I actually don't think Generations is a fail. Data and Picard's storylines in that movie are actually pretty good. It probably wasn't "theatrical" enough to be a movie (if it was a 2 part episode in S7 people would have rated it 4 stars)... but I like it.

First Contact took TWoK approach, and that's why it is my favorite TNG movie. It really had nice pieces for almost every character and did nice things for the ST mythos in general (Vulcans at first contact, the new Enterprise, etc.) It wasn't awesome sci-fi, but it was good to the characters and the universe. That's probably why I think ST6 is my favorite.

As for Insurrection, it wasn't bad... but it probably would have worked better as a 2 part episode also.
Robert - Fri, Aug 29, 2014 - 1:13pm (USA Central)
As for Nemesis... since they finally decided to use the Romulans (TNG's Klingons basically)... they needed to make Nemesis into TNG's Undiscovered Country. Instead we get a random race that happens to live with the Romulans that we've never seen before, a human villain (that is a clone of Picard) and a cross between Lore and a Pakled? Sigh....

It's STILL more watchable (to me) than TMP or STV... but only barely.
Baron Samedi - Fri, Aug 29, 2014 - 2:18pm (USA Central)
@Grumpy thanks for the link to the Hulk essay, it was an excellent read and quite relevant to the rant you were responding to.
Grumpy - Fri, Aug 29, 2014 - 5:07pm (USA Central)
Pardon me for being dismissive. I cannot diagnose true trolling without knowing a poster's motivation. Film Crit Hulk "never met nor read a critic who write a piece one way or other for sole purpose of just trying to get rise out of people," but we know Internet commenters might. I have no way of knowing if Mr. Jordan is pulling such a stunt, but after reading his points one by one, I decided I could safely dismiss them all. Not because his conclusion challenges the conventional wisdom (I agree ST2 is overrated, and I've nitpicked its flaws) but because his reasoning is so far out that a point-by-point rebuttal would waste my time. Especially if it's a prank.
Elliott - Fri, Sep 5, 2014 - 12:55am (USA Central)
@Robert :

First Contact is the only decent film in TNG's output and it's all about the details; structurally, VIII and IX are nearly identical:

1) Philosophical A-Plot, Action B-Plot, splitting the crew
2) Action schlock and corny 1-liners
3) Picard being Bruce Willis
4) Dubious villain
5) Data struggles with emotions
6) Non-regular female lead opposite Picard

The reason First Contact succeeds where Insurrection fails is all in the details of these components:

1) The philosophical-historical plot is well-handled, true to Gene's vision, amiably portrayed and imbued with a real sense of adventure befitting the big screen; the B Plot is sort of dumb, but at least has the big-budget gizmos and shininess to make it enjoyable.
2) The schlock is at least dressed up nicely with beautiful special effects and makeup on the Borg.
3) Picard finds himself the action hero by circumstance and his violent impulses are justified by a psychological aberration connected to the B Plot
4) While the Borg Queen's motivations are, as I said, dubious, she gets some good dialogue and is put to critical use. Plus the Zombie-Movie vibe of the other Borg make up for her shortcomings
5) The movie does right what "Descent" did so wrong, so it's a retread from the series that *improves* upon it.
6) Alfre Woodard's Lily is a magnificent presence on screen and a perfect "everyman" character for the non-Trek audience to relate to. She has an arc, learns a lesson and teaches a lesson through a believable, flushed-out character.

1) The A plot is atrociously underdeveloped and weak, making the Federation look like weenies and the Ba'ku like horrible monsters (and fails to realise this irony). The B plot is anæmic with floppy battles and rote action.
2) The 1-liners are everywhere and incredibly irritating. The schlock is unimaginative and low-budget, almost B-Movie in its execution.
3) Picard inserts himself as the action hero with only the flimsy excuse of "rebellious instincts" for any kind of justification. All he does is shoot things and dive into lakes and blow stuff up. Not the Picard I know.
4) Ruafo is an absolute joke and a waste of Abraham's talent.
5) Data's big arc is learning how to play...I don't have the words to sum up why that's such an insult to this character, but good God, WHAT AN INSULT TO THIS CHARACTER
6) JC Penny Lady (to borrow from RedLetterMedia) is incredibly boring and, like the main moral plotline, we're expected to just swallow whatever new-age bullshit "wisdom" she spouts out. And of course, she was so boring that they had to tack on a romance with Picard which was just as hollow and meaningless as everything else.

In short, for the most part, First Contact felt like an action movie for the TNG crew that *earned* its action, getting there by exploring who the characters really were and what the show was about. Insurrection (much like the Abrams' movies, but with no budget) feels like a generic action movie with a tacked-on (and really poorly thought-out) morality tale that happened to involve the TNG crew.
Robert - Fri, Sep 5, 2014 - 9:23am (USA Central)
Generic action movie != unwatchable though. There are a few unwatchable Trek movies :)

FC is obviously far and away the best TNG outing though, agreed.
Elliott - Sun, Sep 14, 2014 - 5:49pm (USA Central)
@Robert :"TMP.... best ST film?!!"

Hell, yes! Without reservation, it's my favourite film.

I'd rank them, at least right now like this :

Elliott - Sun, Sep 14, 2014 - 5:51pm (USA Central)
Dammit, missed Nemesis:

Elliott - Sun, Sep 14, 2014 - 5:52pm (USA Central)
Note to commenters: check your work on uneditable sites ...

Dave in NC - Sun, Sep 14, 2014 - 8:11pm (USA Central)
I just wanted to say that I love that you all used Roman numerals.
William B - Sun, Sep 14, 2014 - 8:45pm (USA Central)
Without having rewatched,


(not listed: XII (not seen yet))
bhbor - Sun, Sep 14, 2014 - 9:59pm (USA Central)
I'm starting to feel like "Master and Commander: Far Side of the World" belongs in this list as a kind of spiritual 'prequel' to the Star Trek franchise. I'm not sure if anyone else agrees, but I think that this movie is VERY Star Trek in nature: federation esque-identity with a military hierarchy set on foreign waters (analogous to space travel), tight relationship between senior officers, a genuine sense of adventure and scientific exploration (the Galapagos island scene is as good as any away mission) and gritty political intrigue that casts world-powers as close competitors in the Alpha-Quadrant, er uh Pacific ocean.

I believe a kind of Star Trek movie marathon would start well with this flick! Call me crazy!
Peremensoe - Tue, Sep 16, 2014 - 4:10pm (USA Central)
bhbor, you should check out the book series (by Patrick O'Brian) that movie was based on. The movie (which was great, as far as it went) used portions of a few volumes--the two named in yhe title, plus a couple others--but there are TWENTY books (plus an uncompleted one) in all!
Nick Morrissey - Sun, Mar 1, 2015 - 8:00pm (USA Central)
This movie just gained an extra shot of emotional resonance with Nimoy's passing...
William B - Thu, Mar 12, 2015 - 1:33pm (USA Central)
Spock had his realization that logic alone was not enough in the previous film, but overall seems content with his place in the world: captain, instructor, mentor. He is secure in his personal philosophy and has a place in the world -- which is probably why, ultimately, he can die at the film's end. V'Ger mirrored the main characters but Spock was even more heavily linked to V'Ger than Kirk was, and so his existential crisis was at least temporarily resolved. Kirk, on the other hand, reluctantly acknowledged Decker's heroism and is willing to devote himself to "raising" the next generation of command officers, with Saavik as the primary representative thereof. But there is still a big missing something. He is getting older, too old perhaps to command a starship, and he has neither any family nor any permanent, ongoing work and legacy. The clock ticks away in his apartment. Time is running out. So what are the three things that would terrify a single man as he enters middle age? Why, an old man, a powerful woman, and a young man about to supplant him. And all three are half-forgotten remnants of Kirk's past, old wounds he tells McCoy he doesn't want reopened.

Khan the villain of the piece is not just an old man, but perhaps the oldest human alive. (I presume that he's the oldest of the Botany Bay stock, though I can't be certain.) In terms of his body's age, Khan is only maybe a decade older than Kirk (that's the difference between Montalban and Shatner's ages), but in chronological time Khan comes from the twentieth century. Not only that, but Khan, as established in Space Seed, is essentially the last of the quasi-benevolent despots; after Khan came the Col. Greens, the Encounter at Farpoint kangaroo courts, the destruction of WWIII, before First Contact finally started Earth toward healing. But in Space Seed Kirk, Scotty, Bones et al. admit a kind of admiration for what Khan accomplished, even as they admit to Spock that it is wrong to find him admirable; he was a man of culture who instituted "reforms" in the lands he conquered, establishing universities and hospitals. In a lot of ways, and in keeping with the Genesis theme, Khan, as of Space Seed anyway, reminds me a bit of a Biblical patriarch in addition to being an Alexander/Napoleon-type: he desires and even requires total rule and domination, but there is room in his world for mercy and even love for the "family" that he creates. This model of manhood, in Trekdom, of the man as total, undisputed ruler over all he surveys, and who views himself as a benevolent leader, is something that finally gets quashed with Khan. In Space Seed, it turns out that not just Kirk et al. but also McGivers finds herself seduced by that ancient model. There is no room in the 23rd century democratic egalitarianism for Khan's model of absolute ruler, but the instinct for it still exists, and giving Khan a place to rule himself ala Milton's Satan (and allowing his people, and McGivers for that matter) a place to live that out was both an ethical solution to a difficult problem and a way of suppressing without finally destroying that urge.

Here's what I think: Kirk the adventurer is the ethical, 23rd-century ideal, version of Khan. He has the instincts of a conquerer but channels them into meeting new peoples, gaining new information, and solving problems. The problem is that in order to "conquer" without actually conquering, to solve problems in the short-term without definitely imposing his rule, Kirk acts, makes huge command decisions that will affect dozens of lives, and then leave, and never returns. This combines with Kirk's mindset that he can cheat death at any time to produce the idea of invincibility, and to reinforce the belief that his solutions are always the correct ones, while he also...leaves and avoids taking full responsibility. And we get major and minor variations of this pattern in this film. In terms of command-style ruling decisions, there is the fate of Khan and his people on Ceti Alpha V. In terms of Kirk's personal life, there are Carol and David Marcus. That Kirk has a child actually does make sense to me, given his brash womanizing, though it's worth noting that this womanizing became more frequent as the TV series went on; on the one hand, that Kirk actually did father a child makes his disinterest in consequences worse, but on the other hand I think Kirk's capacity for denial does make some sense. He staves off existential dread by exploring more, and solving more problems, until eventually he realizes that he has nothing to show for it. Let's note, too, that Carol specifically asked Kirk to stay away from David, as he relates; I can imagine a few different ways that could have gone, but I suspect that the basic reason is that Kirk didn't know exactly how to lead a life with Carol with both of them pursuing their careers -- which forms quite a contrast to Khan and McGivers, who gave up her career and, eventually, her life to go be his wife, consort and acolyte. While the film is obviously 23rd century, I think that there is something in here about the difficult role of fatherhood in mid-to-late 20th century; the old model of fatherhood of man as patriarch, man as head of the household, is represented by Khan, and is dying off, and it leaves men with Khanlike instincts uncertain how to function as equals with their lovers and so mostly finding themselves alienated from them and their children, ala Kirk here.

So Khan's titular wrath comes down to anger that his "family" was destroyed: his wife died. (Did he have any children who died?) He lost his future, and could just barely survive. Khan WAS a prince, back in the twentieth century, and was unable to function in a world in which he wasn't the ruler, but was willing to settle for "ruling" over a small family/tribe, something of a compromise to the times. And then this was ripped away from him. The displacement of the planet due to the destruction of Ceti Alpha VI (which gets called back later, to an extent, both in the Genesis Planet's destruction in STIII and also in the destruction of Praxis the moon in STVI) is a disaster which an insurance company might call an Act of God, and as in Moby Dick Khan's obsessive anger is at the untameable forces of nature and his ability to maintain control. It gets directed onto Kirk because Kirk is at least a human representative of the forces which Khan can't control, and he can hardly launch a campaign against God for destroying his planet and killing his wife, first of all because He probably doesn't exist, and if he did even Khan wouldn't believe he could actually take him on. He has something of a legitimate beef against Kirk for abandoning him and his to a fate; while the original deal was that Khan might not survive, the deal still depended on Ceti Alpha V being *difficult* but not impossible to live on, and that Khan was marooned on a planet with no actual possibility of asking for help does mean that perhaps Kirk should have checked in on him. But really, Khan is angry at both the universe and possibly, deep down, himself, because he is reaping the benefits of demanding absolute rulership; a Federation prison would have been safer, it turns out, no? The point is made with regularity as the film goes on that Khan really could stop at any time after he's gotten the Genesis planet and become his own God, make a new planet to rule over with his remaining people, but Khan cannot do this knowing that Kirk is out there, because by this point I don't think Khan even really *wants* to start again, only to run the risk of losing it. He is angry at the universe for what he has lost, and for giving him a challenge that really was outside the scope of his intellect and strength. "How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life."

But I think that symbolically, Khan's wrath mirrors Kirk's anger, bubbling to the surface, about his encroaching mortality, and what he has lost. Note that the loss of his wife and the destruction of his "family" is, notably, an EXACT THING that Kirk actually failed to hang onto. Kirk specifically AVOIDED cultivating a family, and he has no real idea what to do with the blood relative he has. Khan encounters not just the Marcuses' Genesis project, but also Chekov, a protege of Kirk's sent off into the world where Kirk might not see him again (until he rejoins the crew). Kirk's desire to escape consequences and responsibility is also, as I suggested earlier, a genuine uncertainty of HOW to be a responsible lover and father, especially in a world in which he CANNOT have absolute rulership. Kirk does not trust authority all that much, and does not believe in someone having absolute rulership, but that is the main way he knows how to lead; note that even later in the film, when he gets beamed up after playing a trick on Khan regarding how long before he can beam back up, he didn't bother telling the Marcuses about the trick until it was beam-up time, even though surely they could use that information; he is uncomfortable trusting Saavik to command the ship out of spacedock; etc. It's hard to imagine Kirk as a husband and father NOT being tyrannical, at least the Kirk as we know him, not because he approves of absolute rulership in personal affairs but because that is how he knows how to operate. That his nearest friends in the world are also his inferior officers (though at least McCoy is not a line officer and has the medical authority to relieve Kirk) similarly speaks to Kirk's control issues. So Kirk is frustrated because he can no longer have adventures, but he is also frustrated because the possibility to have a loving family has passed him by, just as it has Khan -- except that unlike Khan, it was no Act of God but Kirk's own immaturity that prevented him from forming relationships. And Khan, the symbol of old age and also ancient patriarchal authority, comes to destroy him specifically because of his irresponsibility (i.e. in not checking back in with them), which also happens to be partly about the limits of Kirk's power and authority (Kirk acted as if the Ceti Alpha V situation were within his power, but it turns out it was well without it). I think that this mirrors Kirk's anger at himself for not taking responsibility, but part of the problem is that I suspect Kirk's irresponsibility really is because I think the only way he can envision himself behaving "responsibly" is to go full-on "tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood," as the Klingon said in The Trouble with Tribbles, to rule over his "family" like Khan.

Notably, Kirk spends all his time on a starship, which is associated, at least to a degree, with the military. His experience, which is the one thing he has over Khan, is with battle strategy. In this adventure is fighting, and ultimately death -- which Kirk encounters regularly, and sometimes even doles out, but never experiences himself. It's not all there is to his job in Starfleet, but it is a lot of it. And so that Carol and David's project is Genesis is pretty interesting. Assuming David is the only child Kirk fathered, Carol really does symbolically represent Life to Kirk, and so for her and David's project to be about the creation of life, which is deeply foreign territory to Kirk, him being estranged from them and all. I think it's also interesting that Khan can only really use the Genesis device for destruction, because he is nearing the end of his life and embittered, and what he had thought of as his last shot to create life (with McGivers) is now gone. I suspect that there is something male/female about the starship battle/Genesis device organization, but it is not strictly a matter of male adventurism/death-dealing/defying and female creation, since the genders are reversed in the younger generation -- Saavik is training for Starfleet and dealing with death, David training in Genesis. So Kirk's alienation from, and reconciliation with, Carol and David has something to do with Kirk being cut off from the flow of life. The only way Kirk can feel alive is by defying death through risk/adventure.

So is there a way out? Are the options to remain an irresponsible boy-child into one's forties and fifties, messing with the universe a bit and then running away, or to become a mad tyrant who needs to control the universe? Obviously there is a way out, and it's Spock. Spock is depicted almost entirely in heroic terms in this film, with the one possible exception being that I think McCoy has a point in the brief Genesis debate scene that Spock is far too cold about the frightening implications of Genesis. Normally Spock is depicted as a flawed hero. I think the reason this is an exception has to do with the nature of Kirk's dilemma in this picture, and the other films in the series do have Spock's flaws more readily on display. In this film, though, Spock is willing to cede control, willing to teach others, willing to live without adventure and willing to sacrifice himself when need be. Kirk is not a bad man, but he is unwilling to sacrifice himself and others, which leads to some of the disastrous situations in this film -- he proposed an "ideal solution" for Khan and then never bothered to consider what would happen if his ideal situation fell through; he fathered a child and then stayed away while claiming that it's what Carol wanted. His problem, and what I think nags at him, is that his need to win in all situations means that he goes into denial at the possibility of loss. Unlike Khan, Kirk has the good sense not to go after and try to destroy people when he is threatened with a loss, but he shuts his mind off about situations that might go south the moment he exits. In this film, Spock eventually realizes that the ship cannot be saved by Kirk's strategies, and simply acts without Kirk's say-so, going to engineering and sacrificing himself to save the ship. I actually agree that this could have been depicted a tiny bit better (WHY DOESN'T SPOCK WEAR A RADIATION SUIT) but I don't have a big problem with that, and the actual scenes of Spock's death, with the glass separating him and Kirk, and the funeral scene, are extraordinary (especially the former) and among the best in the Trek canon, which as has been mentioned above gain an extra punch with Leonard Nimoy's passing.

At the very end, Kirk says that he feels young. Why does he feel young? His friend just died! But I think that's exactly it. Kirk says that he has never faced death before, "not like this," which could be interpreted as poor continuity given how many "He's dead, Jim"s there were, and his brother's death in "Operation -- Annihilate!" and the deaths he witnessed in his youth as told in "The Conscience of the King," and plus the deaths that he blamed on himself in "Obsession." Still, of these, the only one Kirk really blamed HIMSELF for was "Obsession," and that was self-blame for a mistake when he was a VERY young officer, and which he eventually realizes wasn't his fault anyway. I think that there IS something different about Spock's death. For one, Kirk really does seem to me to be closer to Spock even than to his brother. Given that Kirk never did establish a family, with Carol or anyone else, Spock is the nearest thing to a life partner Kirk has. I think he also recognizes that Spock stepped in to solve Kirk's no-win scenario for him. Spock, in other words, taught Kirk to deal with death by just openly confronting it, recognizing that it has to happen, and logically accepting it. Spock's sacrifice is as much for Kirk himself as for the overall ship, which is similar to his sacrifice for Kirk early on, of giving Kirk command. And so Kirk actually experiences Spock's death partly as his own...and survives. He lost his best friend, largely because of his own past piling up on him (via Khan, Carol, David), and this makes death seem real, which ALSO makes life seem real in the process. He can look at David more clearly now; having lived through Spock's death, Kirk is able to confront his mistakes and regrets and not be afraid of the losses he has suffered due to his own mistakes. And really, Kirk, who has never dealt with death which he really interpreted at least partly as HIS OWN death, or death which is TRULY on his hands (even those who died under his command), finds that he is not driven mad by it, as Khan was, but can live through it, and that means he is no longer so totally afraid, and is free to live himself.

That Khan blows himself up with the Genesis device, and destroys himself in an effort to destroy Kirk, but also gives new life through the process, also makes a certain amount of symbolic sense. Khan represents the part of Kirk who wants to destroy Kirk for his failure to take charge of his life, and for the tragedies that have befallen him. That part of Kirk needs to be defeated, and needs to die, for Kirk to be "reborn." And that allows for Spock's own death/rebirth. If one prefers not to see other characters as symbolic of traits in the protagonist, I think it's worth saying instead that Khan's ultimate self-destruction also gives Kirk the recognition of the self-defeating nature of going for control and domination and anger as a response to a no-win scenario, and to death itself.

There are definitely some significant flaws in this movie especially as science-fiction. The rapidly shifting properties of the Genesis Device, which eventually can make a planet in the middle of a nebula (?!?!?) are probably the most frustrating. But I think these things are relatively minor, especially if one views the film as a myth about aging, death and loss. There is actually a lot more to say about the particulars of how the film works but I will stop writing there. 4 stars.
Captain Jon - Sun, Mar 29, 2015 - 12:37am (USA Central)
I am posting my review for TWoK here just as I did for TMP. Please feel free to check out my "full experience" review (pictures) on my blog captainjonreviews.blogspot.com. I'm currently in the process of writing a review for TSFS and hope to post that in the coming days with a review for each film coming as I review them. Enjoy!

Admiral James T. Kirk returns to the U.S.S. Enterprise, which has been turned into a training ship for a group of Starfleet cadets. Unhappy in his new post and not in command of a starship, Kirk struggles with aging and death when an old nemesis, Khan, escapes after fifteen years of imprisonment on a desolate world and seeks revenge on Kirk for the death of his wife.

Despite it's mixed critical reception, the highly anticipated of Gene Roddenberry's most popular creation returned in 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture with a global box office haul of over $130 million. Happy with the movie's success, Paramount Pictures gave the green-light to a sequel. Their biggest stipulation, however, was that it be made for significantly less than the $46 million price tag of the first film. Feeling that his constant request for rewrites added to TMP's soaring budget, Gene Roddenberry was removed from any direct involvement in the sequel. The script he had written in which the Enterprise crew follows a group of Klingons into the past to alter Earth's future by preventing the assassination of John F. Kennedy was rejected and Roddenberry was "promoted" to being an executive consultant. With Roddenberry out of the way, Paramount turned to TV producer Harvey Bennett to make Star Trek II despite having never seen an episode of the series. In preparing for the project, Bennett watched all 79 episodes and selected Space Seed as the basis for their story bringing back Ricardo Montalban's Khan in as the villain.

Bennett hired multiple writers who each drafted various versions of the story which involved the return of Khan. Yet, they couldn't settle on a script with which everyone was happy. Thus Bennett turned to writer/director Nicholas Meyer for help. Meyer took the best elements of each script and cobbled them together in his own draft, writing the screenplay for free and uncredited in less than 12 days. Meyer envisioned his film as "Hornblower in space" and highlighted the nautical qualities of the Star Trek series and, more importantly, realized the characters as human.

To accomplish this, Meyer acknowledged the passage of time and allowed the crew of the Enterprise to grow. No longer are our heroes "gallavanting around the cosmos" but are now instructing the next generation of explorers. James T. Kirk, once again an admiral, somberly celebrates his birthday in which Dr. McCoy presents him with a pair of glasses to help him read as he gets older. This little tidbit may seem small but is incredibly significant for the character of Kirk who has always been portrayed as invulnerable. Also introduced is David, Kirk's son with the scientist Carol Marcus. In David, Kirk sees the life he could have had and makes him feel much older. William Shatner's performance is strong and mellow. His confidence is rocky as he grapples with aging but as the story progresses he gradually regains it as he recognizes that with age comes wisdom and experience. Kirk's growth across The Wrath of Khan may not seem very groundbreaking nowadays but in 1982 when many TV characters were static and unchanging, this was incredibly remarkable.

The script not only packs in more characterization than The Motion Picture but adds more action as well. Featuring two of Star Trek's finest space battles, The Wrath of Khan boosts action similar to old sailing ships on the high seas with an emphasis placed on tactical strategy over brute force. This approach is quite fitting with Kirk's character growth as it's through his acceptance of aging and wisdom that he's able to defeat Khan. Though many of the visual effects are reused in much of the film's early scenes, the climactic battle features great FX in the purple-blue clouds of the Mutara Nebula. The action is packed with suspense and thrills that make it quite memorable. Accompanying The Wrath of Khan is a fantastic score by future-Oscar Winner James Horner who captures the beauty and dangers of space in a way that distinguishes the music from Jerry Goldsmith's classic soundtrack without departing too far from that successful template.

Acting-wise The Wrath of Khan is spot on across the board. DeForest Kelley's Dr. McCoy is given a much more prominent role and does well, at his best when sharing the screen with Shatner. James Doohan's Scotty doesn't get much screen time but he makes the most of it, even managing to display more emotion than what we're used to from the miracle worker engineer. Even though some of the supporting characters such as Chekov, Sulu and Uhura don't have much to do, the performances from Koenig, Takei and Nichols are more energetic and a big improvement over The Motion Picture. The additions to the cast are also perfect. Merritt Buttrick not only looks like he could be the offspring of Shatner and Bisch, he also carries his part well. Bibi Besch is also perfect in her limited screen time as Carol Marcus. When Nicholas Meyer cast the role, he wanted someone who could not only convey the brains of a scientist but also someone beautiful enough for the audience to buy that she could once old the heart of James T. Kirk. In Besch, Meyers succeeds. Paul Winfield is good as Captain Terrell, portraying cool and confidence. Considering most "other captains" would later be portrayed as weak to show how much better our captains our, Winfield's performance is welcome.

The two biggest additions to the cast are Kirstie Alley as Saavik and Ricardo Montalban as Khan. Despite portraying a Vulcan, Alley is never stiff and gives the impression that beneath the surface is plenty of sass and wit waiting to bubble to the surface. Alley's Saavik is instantly loveable and fits right in with the series cast. Of course, The Wrath of Khan probably wouldn't be anywhere near as successful as it is without Montalban. He chews the scenery from the moment he appears and never lets up. Though the role is entirely fueled by hate and vengeance, Montalban gives anything but a one-note performance, adding plenty of charm and menace in a role infused with undertones of Captain Ahab. To this day, Ricardo Montalban's Khan is still Star Trek's most memorable villain.

Just as The Wrath of Khan wouldn't be the same without Khan, not would it be without Leonard Nimoy's Spock and the emotional payoff in the movie's climax. In The Motion Picture, Nimoy seemed uninterested in his performance. Wishing to be done with the role of Spock, Nimoy requested his character be killed off. Early drafts featured the death as a surprising twist in the opening act. But here Nimoy features it as the film's emotional climax to great effect, making it not only Star Trek's best character deaths but likely one of the best in all feature films. Nimoy's performance is much more engaged and more along the lines of his portrayal of the character that made him so loved in the 60's series. Spock's death serves not only the plot but also the ultimate character growth of Kirk as he's forced to face death in a way he never has before. Always has Kirk cheated his way out of facing death. But not here as he has to learn a lesson that he tried to teach Saavik early on in the movie; that how you face death is as important as how you face life. It's this deep and insightful exploration of challenging themes that has always been a crucial part of Star Trek and The Wrath of Khan tackles the theme of death like the franchise never had before. Both Shatner and Nimoy are excellent in Spock's death scene in which he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the ship and crew. Neither is over-the-top, their performances subtle yet powerful. It's a great and emotional scene that is just as powerful today as it was in 1982.

After 33 years, The Wrath of Khan remains the standard which all Star Trek films have strived to achieve, each with their varying levels of success. It's this attempt to emulate what worked in The Wrath of Khan which solidifies it's status as a great movie. Packed with thrilling actions, incredible performances and mature storytelling, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remains a timeless classic.

Writing: 2.0 / 2.0
Characters: 2.0 / 2.0
Acting: 2.0 / 2.0
Entertainment: 2.0 / 2.0
Music: 1.0 / 1.0
Visuals: .75 / 1.0

TOTAL: 9.75 / 10

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