Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982.
Directed by Nicholas Meyer.
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and Ricardo Montalban.
After years in exile on a barren world, a genetically-engineered superhuman warrior seeks revenge against the man who sent him there.
Following the cancellation of the Star Trek television series in 1969 and the subsequent success of the original episodes in syndication, creator Gene Roddenberry lobbied Paramount executives for a big screen revival of his sci-fi vision. Instead, network executives planned to reincarnate the franchise in the mid-70’s with a project known as Star Trek: Phase II, which would have reunited the original crew of the USS Enterprise for a new five year mission. However, the critical and commercial successes of George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) added huge appeal to Roddenberry’s original idea and a big-screen adaptation was soon given the green-light.
Developed from the proposed pilot episode of Phase II and rushed through production, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released into cinemas in 1979 and broke box-office records on its way to a worldwide gross of $139m. Despite this financial success the movie was criticised heavily for a slow, plodding narrative, lack of action and weak plot, and failed to live up to the expectations of a $49m budget. Roddenberry’s proposal for a sequel was rejected by the studio, which ultimately led to his removal from the project, and executives brought in television producer Harve Bennett and director Nicholas Meyer to deliver a more action-orientated picture on a greatly reduced budget.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan opens with Admiral James T. Kirk and Captain Spock (Nimoy) overseeing new trainees including the Vulcan, Lieutenant Saavik (Kirstie Alley, in her debut role), as they sit the simulation programme Kobayashi Maru, a no-win exercise which only Kirk himself has been able to conquer. Meanwhile, Commander Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) and the USS Reliant are on an expedition to an uncolonised world, Ceti Alpha VI, which Starfleet hopes to use as a testing ground for their new terraforming contraption, the Genesis Device.
Beaming to the surface of the planet, Chekov and Reliant Captain Terrell are soon captured by one of the more memorable villains from the original show, Khan Noonien Singh (Montalban, in a perfectly over-the-top performance), a superhuman warrior of the twentieth century Eugenics Wars who originally appeared in the episode Space Seed. Awoken by the crew of the USS Enterprise after close to three centuries in suspended animation, Khan and his followers had attempted to take control of the ship only to be thwarted by Kirk and banished into exile. Now he’s pissed off and assumes command of the Reliant, swearing vengeance on Kirk and his crew.
Dispatched to investigate, the Enterprise is ambushed en route, with Khan revealing himself to his long-time nemesis and setting up a deadly game of cat and mouse. While Kirk ultimately prevails, Khan manages to unleash the Genesis Device onto a nearby planet, his last act of aggression before death. Badly damaged from the battle, the Enterprise is threatened with destruction by the imminent explosion until Spock makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to save his friend and the crew.
While Spock’s departure is tarnished somewhat by the less-than-subtle hint towards the events of the next movie Shatner and Nimoy still provide a memorable and emotional final scene, while Ricardo Montalban is exceptional throughout as the villain with a blind obsession for revenge. Shatner and Montalban really are on top form as the two ageing leaders; mortal enemies embarking a battle of wits that tests each of them to the core, and provides the audience with a multitude of memorable quotes. Against this action-based backdrop the film also explores the friendship between Kirk and Spock and the realisation that age is starting to catch up (a concept seemingly ignored throughout the rest of the series).
Unlike The Motion Picture, The Wrath of Khan moves with a much swifter pace and harks back to the spirit of the original television series. It was a box office success upon release and remains a highlight of the Star Trek movie series with it’s dark themes of death, resurrection, and vengeance. It was credited for renewing waning interest in the franchise and is head and shoulders above a number of the subsequent sequels, while for sheer entertainment value it is unmatched.