The Reviewinator: Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan (1982)


“KHAN!!! KHAN!!! KHAAAAAAAAN!!!” And now every TV show and movie that ever quoted that line suddenly makes sense. I first heard about The Wrath of Khan from Seinfeld, when Kramer was learning Karate, so I was really looking forward to this one. Also, most “Trekkies” consider this movie to be the best Star Trek anything that ever existed. Does that mean it’s all downhill from here? I hope not, because if I wasn’t hooked before, I sure am now.

Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is starting to feel his age: having yet another birthday, being at the top of his profession, and receiving much-needed reading glasses from Bones (DeForest Kelley). He accompanies the Enterprise on a training mission for young new recruits commanded by Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy). And  that’s when his past comes back to haunt him in the form of Khan (Ricardo Montalban), the genetically-engineered superhuman Kirk left stranded on a dead planet 15 years prior. Khan hijacks another starship with what’s left of his crew and exacts revenge on Kirk, the Enterprise, and anyone else who gets in his way.

After Star Trek: The Motion Picture, anything would feel like The Godfather by comparison, but that doesn’t stop this movie from being fantastic. Khan may seem like an odd choice for a movie villain since the single episode he was in was good but hardly the best. Still, this is an extremely well-crafted movie, juggling multiple themes and interweaving them in a way that creates real growth for Kirk and the Enterprise crew. And while Gene Roddenberry was famously kept at arm’s length for this entry because of his constant meddling on the abysmal first movie, it was actually for the best as this movie successfully brings the magic of ‘60’s TV era into the ‘80’s movie era.

Well-known egomaniac William Shatner may have a reputation behind the scenes, but he nevertheless delivers his best performance (so far) in this movie. Kirk has always been a likable leader, but in this movie he’s at his most human. Feeling the vulnerability of his age, the helplessness against Khan, responsibility towards the trainees, and the revelation that he has a son, he’s very much a changed man by the end. A better man, even, and he displays this humanness from start to finish. Were I not already a big fan of Kirk, this single movie would surely have made me one.

The final moments in the movie are very poignant. (And if you’ve seen X-Men 2, you may notice a little something.) Maybe they should have ended the Star Trek franchise here. It seems like it still hasn’t been topped in 34 years (and counting), but that may be a matter of opinion. There’s so much more Star Trek out there, and this movie may be the main reason for it. With a cancelled TV show in the 60’s, a cancelled animated series in the 70’s, and a lackluster first movie 3 years prior, The Wrath of Khan skyrocketed Star Trek into one of the most successful cinematic and television franchises in history.

4 out of 5

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