Grade:A-Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Ricardo Montalban

Release Company: Paramount

MPAA Rating: PG

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Nicholas Meyer: The Wrath of Khan


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I have been and ever shall be your friend.
Spock's words ring true to me whenever I have a chance to check out one of the better episodes from the Star Trek canon, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of the best of the full-length Star Trek films. Just thinking about it reminds me of the first time I ever saw it, and how tears were streaming down my face during Spock's courageous scene. Come to think of it, those tears somehow return with each subsequent viewing.

What fun this sequel turns out to be—especially when it's brought back to life on the big screen, when you can sit with a few Trekkies who will clap at the opening credits and cheer for Khan (Ricardo Montalban), as I had a chance to do at a special festival of sequels.

The first Star Trek motion-picture adaptation attempted to give its fans a dose of more modern special effects, along with a story line that was intended to be cerebral. Though respectable, it's very banal and forgettable. On the other hand, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is so superior to the first movie, not because of the advanced special effects, but because the screenwriter remembered why many of us love the television series.

And that is because of our attachment to the characters and how they play off one another—the heroic Captain James T. Kirk (played cheesily by the incomparable William Shatner), the logical Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and his humanistic opposite Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and the remaining supporting cast so familiar to the original Star Trek fans.

No heady “Menagerie, I” episode without a lot of action, but more in line with the intensity of “Amok Time,” Star Trek II focuses on the vengeful figure of Khan, quoting unrelentingly from Melville, exposing his pectoral muscles, and generally matching Shatner’s over-the-top acting hambone for hambone.

Actually, the project has resurrected one of the television series' best villains from its “Space Seed” episode, in which Khan Noonian Singh has survived the Eugenics Wars with his superior mental and physical powers and attempted to take over the Enterprise.

Of course, Kirk intervened—saving the lives of 435 members of his crew—and made a suitable resolution to the problem by sending Khan and his clan to an uninhabited but Earthlike planet to rule over.

Little did Kirk know that this planet would be blown into another orbit and become as desolate as northern Nevada in a duststorm, requiring Khan to use his superior intellect to find methods of scratching out an existence.

But since no one from the Federation had checked on the colony, Khan has spent his time reading Moby Dick and developing an Ahab-like obsession for revenge against Kirk. That is, until Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) transport themselves to the prospective dead planet, only to find themselves at the mercy of Khan and his insidious indigenous creatures that burrow into the inner ear.

It's not long before Admiral James T. Kirk, unwisely promoted into semi-retirement, is pressed into active duty. With no ego to interfere, Captain Spock logically asserts that the superior officer aboard the Enterprise must assume control for the “needs of the many outnumber the needs of the few—or the one.”

We get all that we can hope for in an expanded Star Trek episode. We see Kirk match wits with Khan as we enjoy watching William Shatner take control and dominate every scene he's in, by the book daring the predictably vengeful, two-dimensional-thinking Khan to figuratively take the Kobayashi Maru test with him, where there can be only one winner. Whether it's a contest between characters or an acting contest between two of the biggest egotistical hambones in the business, we know who will come out on top!

The other standards are all there. Spock and Bones continue to needle each other, Uhuru (Nichelle Nichols) is still having difficulty with a ship jamming the communication channels, Sulu (George Takai) continues to lock on the phasers, Scotty (James Doohan) still has troubles in the engine room, and a relentless enemy rocks the Enterprise threatening doom with a prototype stolen Genesis device.

The one thing that continues to stand out is the big emotional scene that floods the waterworks of every Trek fan in the audience.

Even though I now know that Leonard Nimoy relented (for a directorship deal) and comes back in subsequent episodes, I tear up each time Spock's great scene plays. It allows William Shatner his supreme acting moment when he declares that Spock is the most human soul he has ever encountered. Why the Academy didn't award him an honorary Oscar for that moment puzzles me. It might prevent Shatner from trying his hand at any more Bob Dylan tunes or from overdoing the Priceline commercials. (In reality, director Nicholas Meyer wore the hambone actor down with countless takes to exhaustion so that he didn't overdo the scene)

Trekkies have already stamped their seal of approval on this worthy movie version to the Star Trek canon, and if you know someone who isn't familiar with the series, Star Trek II is an excellent one to start with. Even though the inside jokes are more meaningful to Trekkies (or Trekkers), it stands on its own and has good enough special effects for a 1982 film and enough action and character development to convert new fans. Just don’t let them watch Star Trek V! (That really is a no-win scenario.)

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