Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) Review

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Living long and still prospering
I am not a Star Trek fan...for now at least. I've only seen a few episodes of The Next Generation series and a couple of Original Series episodes, but none of the movies had ever crossed my path. Hell, I didn't even know there were Star Trek movies until Nemesis was released in theaters, where it subsequently bombed. What I am a big fan of, however, is Star Wars. During many years of my youth, I would argue with Trek fans over why Star Wars was better, despite having barely touched a few hours of Trek. But now with the new reboot coming up soon, one that I am genuinely excited about because it actually looks good, I figured I should go back and watch a little bit of the franchises roots. For my trip back in time though, I didn't just pick any piece of the Star Trek canon to watch. I picked the one that everyone, Trek fans and just science fiction fans in general, look back on with a fondness in their hearts. I watched...KHHHAAAAANNNN!!!

Plot Synopsis: James Kirk, now an admiral in Starfleet, is haunted by the thought that he is getting too old to command his starship, The Enterprise. While on a surveying mission on the planet Ceti Alpha VI, Chekhov comes across the remains of a ship once piloted by Khan Noonien Singh, who was exiled to the planet by Kirk 15 years prior. Khan captures Chekhov and uses him to find Kirk and the Enterprise so that he can exact his revenge on Kirk for what he did to him. To do this, Khan steals a device known only as Genesis, which reorganizes all matter within its range in order to create an all-new planet.


Lets get the bad done with quickly, so I can get it out of the way. The movie's special effects are very dated and haven't aged well at all. Even for 1982, they seem to have probably been a little sub-par, especially after Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back set such a new standard for science fiction films. The space battles just lack that polish and intensity (except the climatic one, which holds up better than the others) that would've really pulled me into the excitement of the moment. Despite these gripes, director Nicholas Meyer keeps the pace moving relatively fast, while slowing down at the right moments to focus on the characters and their relationships.

And really, Star Trek has always been more focused on its characters than action. William Shatner turns in a surprisingly more controlled and subtle performance as Kirk than what you're probably used to from him. The key word there is "more" controlled, meaning that we still get some classic moments of the patented Shatner overacting. Leonard Nimoy, unsurprisingly, is just great as Spock, and his final scene with Kirk in the movie is heart-wrenching, even for a viewer who is just starting to get into the characters. The other Enterprise cast members put in good performances too, notably DeForest Kelley as Bones and Walter Koenig as Chekhov, with the exception of Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, who is noticeably pushed to the sidelines. But one cannot review The Wrath of Khan without referencing Khan himself, Ricardo Montalban. Montalban turns in a wonderfully over the top and entertaining performance, but he's not all menace and rage. He exudes charisma and charm that makes him pretty sympathetic, especially considering what happened to him.


Something I really liked about the plot was the way it wove in its themes of life and death. Khan is trying to steal the project Genesis in order to destroy the Enterprise and its crew, but "genesis" implies the creation the creation of life. In essence, Khan is using the creation of life as a means of ending life in the process. SPOILER This is best exemplified when Spock sacrifices himself in order to save the lives of his fellow crew mates, reducing the death of many to the death of one, but still offering it as a payoff for the creation of the Genesis planet. Come to think of it, I just realized that Spock's sacrifice represents the themes of destiny and fate. Because he is saving the Enterprise, he must now offer himself as the loss caused by the explosion END SPOILER. Wow, this is really heady stuff.

Despite the uneven special effects, which kept me from enjoying it as much as I wanted to, The Wrath of Khan still proves to be a great science fiction film for both Star Trek fans and non-fans alike. Bring on the reboot J.J. Abrams.


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