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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

| June 4, 1982

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan might just be one of the greatest do-overs in movie history. 

When I reviewed Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I noted that the chief problem was that the movie dealt with very human issues put through a cast of characters who didn’t seem to express any humanity at all.  Their dialogue was flat, their interactions were dull, and even their response to surprising events lacked the appropriate energy.

That is not the problem with the sequel, which never mentions the first movie at all and seems content to start over.  This is a sci-fi adventure, yes, but there are themes here that represent the best of Star Trek and, by extension, the best of human drama.  Themes about mortality, aging, death, regret, old wounds, parentage, interpersonal connections both comforting and uneasy.  The human spectrum is here.  In its quiet moments, this is the warmest science fiction movie since Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  In its action scenes, it displays a kind of strategic logic that even Star Wars couldn’t match.

The best of Star Trek has always been its characters and the great overarching story here is Jim Kirk suffering through another birthday while deal with the nagging feeling that his best years are behind him.  Added to that is the sudden presence of an old lover (Bibi Besch) and a son, David (Merritt Buttrick), that he never knew he had.  This sounds like it would slow the film down, but our long-standing knowledge of Kirk as a character really gets us inside of his troubled soul.  In the end, he suffers a personal sacrifice and a reawakening.  All of this through a very good performance by William Shatner, who is relaxed here and is also allowed a good range of emotions.  At his side always are Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelly) and the ever-faithful Spock (Leonard Nimoy).  They provide Kirk with a kind of conscience, a common-sense wisdom.  It’s really quite wonderful.

Of course, there’s an action plot, and luckily, it’s a great one.  The movie is actually a sequel to the 1966 episode “Space Seed” which saw Khan (Ricardo Montalbán) a bio-engineered genius brought on board The Enterprise who then proceeded to take over the ship and enslave the crew.  At the end of that episode, Kirk banished Khan and his crew to a planet where they could fend for themselves.

Now, fifteen years later, while scanning suitable planets for an experiment in instantaneous terraforming (don’t ask), a scout crew led by Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) discovers Khan and the remains of his crew who have been struggling after their prison planet has been turned into a wasteland.  Khan wants revenge on Kirk and so the rest of the movie becomes a long, and pretty exciting, game of cat and mouse.

I haven’t really given too much away.  I’ll just say that I wasn’t expecting a Star Trek sequel to be this good, this exciting, or this emotional.  This is really a complex story on a human level, on an action level and on a storytelling level.  Do I dare to call a movie named Star Trek II one of the best films of the year?  Oh well, I just did.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Sci-Fi/Fantasty