R112 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

(1982, SciFi, color)


Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

He’s getting too old for this ship.

Rating: ***1/2

In a Nutshell

Kirk assumes the role of White Whale in Star Trek’s adaptation of Moby Dick.


Khan's pecs rule all!James T. Kirk (William Shatner) has retired from starship captaining to run training exercises for new recruits with his old buddies Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Bones (DeForest Kelley)... aw hell, you know who all they are. Early scenes are divided between Kirk’s dissatisfaction with his advancing age and his inspiration of cautious awe in the recruits.

While Kirk and friends supervise a training voyage of the newly rebuilt Enterprise, former crewmember Chekov (Walter Koenig) and his new captain cruise the galaxy seeking lifeless planets on which to test an experimental terraforming device called Project Genesis. In an enormous and mostly lifeless galaxy you’d think that wouldn’t be hard, but apparently just about every planet they find has some sort of developing microorganism on it. Their latest potential testing ground has unclear readings, so they head down to the surface to investigate.

On the surface they discover a group of semi-human warriors exiled by Kirk in an original series episode. They were apparently supposed to “live long and prosper” while stranded on a garden planet, but their nearest celestial neighbor exploded and scorched their world barren. Upset with Kirk for not coming to check on them, warlord Khan (Ricardo Montalban) drops mind control slugs into the ears of Chekov and the captain so that he can take over their ship. While he’s escaping, he learns about Project Genesis and realizes its potential as a weapon. While creating new life, it wipes out all prior life on a planet for raw materials. Mind-controlled Chekov calls up Carol Markus (Bibi Besch), the scientist in charge of the project, and orders her to turn over all materials to his ship.

Like many of the other women in the galaxy, Carol is one of Kirk’s ex-lovers. She’s incensed that he would do such a thing and gets off a garbled message to Kirk before Khan jams her space station’s ability to call for help. With Star Fleet’s blessing, Kirk assumes command of the Enterprise and takes his shipload of trainees to investigate. Upon arrival, a confrontation with Khan’s hijacked vessel cripples both ships.

You can see right down his blouse.
The Enterprise disentangles itself and limps toward the Genesis headquarters. On board they find most of the scientists slaughtered while Carol and a few others fled with the Genesis Device. They discover a shaken up Chekov and his captain. After some transporter technobabble and a message to the Enterprise ordering them to run for help, Kirk and friends follow Carol, beaming themselves to the center of a nearby planet.

Reunited within the planet, Kirk and Carol clear up misunderstandings while Khan assumes control of Chekov and the captain. When ordered to kill Kirk, the captain resists and kills himself while Chekov merely faints. Apparently disgusted by its host’s extreme wussiness, the mind-control slug exits Chekov’s ear canal where it can easily be incinerated by phaser fire. Having located the Genesis device, Khan beams it aboard his ship, taunting Kirk while he strands him in the middle of an unknown planet.

After a bit more exposition, Kirk calls up the Enterprise, which did not run for help per his earlier coded message. They beam aboard and taunt Khan into pursuing them into a nebula, which will make sure everyone’s firing blind for some reason? They win the subsequent blindfolded shootout, but Khan activates the Genesis Device before he dies. Realizing that the device will create a new world out of the nebula’s materials (which now includes the Enterprise) Kirk attempts to flee, but his badly damaged power core can’t make the jump to light speed. Spock descends into the irradiated engineering bay and replaces it manually, sacrificing his life so the Enterprise can escape. After a solemn funeral, the crew jettisons Spock into space. His space coffin lands on the newly formed garden world created by the Genesis Device.


Well, I guess you can 'prosper', anyway.  You know, in the time you have left.
Sure, it’s riddled with plot holes, subtle as a pickaxe and goofier than a clown school full of seventh graders, but Wrath of Khan is still my favorite original cast Star Trek movie by a very wide margin. I know I’m not alone in this. Why? Note that the first sentence of this paragraph does not include such phrases as “weighted with imaginary space politics,” “impressed with its own cleverness” or “heavily invested in a ludicrous moral message”—phrases that apply to nearly every other film in the series. It’s nice to see that, at one point, Star Trek knew how to riff on the literary classics without getting delusions of grandeur.

Ah, the simple pleasures of well-paced space opera, a broad melodrama filled with noble heroes, maidens in peril, ludicrous coincidences and mustache-twirling villains. And speaking of villains, that’s Ricardo Montalban acting his little heart out as the most delicious Star Trek villain of all time: an elderly man with bare, glistening pectorals, delivering every obsessive, semi-literary nugget of nonsense with the rich, velvet accent of Zorro. We’d never seen anything like it before.  Given that this particular combination of attributes would have been unspeakably horrible if attempted by another, we'll never see anything like it again.

Of note: it’s only the second movie and the original cast is already complaining that they’re “too old for this.” Subsequent filmmakers should have taken the hint.

A few favorite comments: When Bones arrives at Kirk’s apartment to give him reading glasses for his birthday, Bill adds, “I also brought you a hernia truss and adult diapers.” While Kirk openly leers at the younger, shapelier trainees, Kevin says, “Perving on the crew is part of the prime directive.” When Khan puffs out his gleaming bosoms for the eighty-ninth time, Mike demands, “Would someone get him a bra?” The movie’s already silly, lightweight fun, and the addition of the commentary makes it sillier, lighter and more fun.