GBUK film classics: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

Looking at some of Geek Blogger UK’s must-see all-time favourites…

 

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…”

 

Year: 1982

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Kirstie Alley, Bibi Besch, Meritt Butrick, Paul Winfield and Ricardo Montalban

Director:  Nicholas Meyer

What’s it about?

The 23rd Century.  The U.S.S. Enterprise is now a training vessel, her former Captain, James T. Kirk feeling unfulfilled as a desk-bound Admiral and longing for a return to Starship command.

Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Reliant – with former Enterprise navigator Chekov serving as first officer – whilst searching for a test site for ‘Project Genesis’ stumbles across Khan Noonien Singh, a 20th Century genetically engineered tyrant revived from cryogenic sleep and subsequently ‘marooned’ on Ceti Alpha V fifteen years earlier by the then Captain Kirk.  Bitter and enraged, Khan and his followers steal the Reliant and plot to steal the Genesis device in order to create a new world to settle, but Khan also has vengeance in mind…

In review

Arguably the best of all the Star Trek films to date (with underrated follow-up Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot vying for close second), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan restored much of the spirit of the original Star Trek television series that was felt to be absent from Star Trek: The Motion PictureThe Wrath of Khan is true to creator Gene Rodenberry’s intention that Star Trek be a vehicle for stories about the human condition.

The film is infused with literary intellect (Khan’s quest for vengeance not unlike that of Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab), social commentary (potentially dangerous technology in the wrong hands) and most of all strong characterisation as we explore Kirk’s crisis as he ponders a life that could have been as a father and husband, Spock’s sacrifice for “the needs of the many” and Khan’s pain at the loss of his wife.

Director Nicholas Meyer, though unfamiliar with Star Trek, skilfully brings these elements into play coaxing truly great, human, performances from the cast, most notably William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and Ricardo Montalban (Khan) – not to mention tension and excitement in the film’s space battle sequences.  Meyer also brings his love of all thing nautical to the fore (although the rather Naval depiction of Starfleet is perhaps a little too Militaristic) with the climactic battle between the Enterprise and the Reliant a fitting homage to tense World War II submarine thrillers such as Robert Wise’s Run Silent, Run Deep.

James Horner’s rousing, exciting and emotional score is the icing on the cake making a fine piece of science fiction film entertainment that resonates on a human level.

Standout moment

Khan, having commandeered the U.S.S. Reliant has crippled the Enterprise in a surprise attack. Kirk uses his experience and intellect to gain the upper hand – “Here it comes…” he utters as Saavik (Kirstie Alley) inputs the command code to lower the Reliant’s defences, Sulu’s (George Takei) finger ready on the trigger.  Kirk fights back.

Three reasons it’s a classic…

  1. It’s Star Trek at its cinematic best and with the original crew who have been succeeded but never replaced.
  2. Like all good science fiction, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a story that taps into the human condition and explores morals and ethics as well as themes such as heroism and loss.
  3. It features an intellectually strong, vengeful villain (played by a superb actor) who, despite his terrible actions, has credible motives.

Did you know?

The film is a sequel to the original Star Trek television series episode “Space Seed” which introduced Khan.

If you like this then watch…

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country : after contributing to the screenplay for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Nicholas Meyer returned to direct the original crew’s final outing in a gripping “whodunit?”  Like all good Star Trek it utilised the science fiction backdrop to comment on issues of the time – namely the collapse of the Berlin wall and with it, the Cold War.

Star Trek Into Darkness : the first sequel to the 2009 J.J. Abrams film shares some of its DNA with The Wrath of Khan as Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the Enterprise face high stakes against the vengeful John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Amongst all of the contemporary blockbuster excitement are faithful homages to the franchise’s roots and commentary on issues such as terrorism and military intervention.

The unforgettable Ricardo Montalben as Khan.

The unforgettable Ricardo Montalben as Khan.

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5 thoughts on “GBUK film classics: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

  1. This is (personally) the best of the Star Trek franchise both past and present! From its relaxed opening of Admiral Kirk doing what he loathes…”I hate Inspections” before being caught with his pants down by the most worthy ‘baddy’ that is Khan!
    There is no evil that can match the sheer bitter revenge that flows through Khans blood – has Kirk finally met his match??

    Some of my favourite points that make this film so genuine however is through the characterisation. Kirk being told by Spock that it was a mistake to accept his promotion, the up and coming Saavik with her quotes on Starfleet protocol, before the final price that the crew must endeavor in order to escape Khan’s claws!

    Ultimately an excellent film portrayed brilliantly by a strong, passionate (and not too old) cast that has some of the most memorable quotes of the Star Trek franchise! “Khaaaaaan!!!”

    A must see for any fellow film buff who is yet to explore the (film) galaxy!

    • Thanks for your thoughts Alex! It’s clear that you get what is so great about the film and Star Trek in general, as we’ve pointed out the strong characterisation (not to mention that iconic cast) is one of the key elements to it’s success and something I’ve always loved about the original (and still best!) series along with Gene Rodenberry’s vision of a better tomorrow.

      Glad they didn’t go with one of the film’s original titles though – “Wrath” is much more villainous than “Revenge” of Khan!

  2. Pingback: So You Think You Can Trek: Part I | Snippet Studios

  3. This is definitely a gem of 80’s film, of science fiction-action, and of Star Trek.

    Another quality making it a classic is the fact one need have no prior exposure to anything Star Trek to get sucked into the drama & action.

    It’s simply a great film for fan & newb alike; a real feat given how fastidious Trekker standards can be. : D

    • True, I never thought actually thought about how accessible Wrath of Khan is – but if you are a fan and you’ve seen the original series episode “Space Seed” it adds just that little extra layer to the overall enjoyment. Good to hear your thoughts – thanks very much for reading the post and taking the time to comment!

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