Well folks, the plot continues to unfold as I now provide a look back into the success that was “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”. Critics referred to Star Trek II as, “That’s more like it!” The first movie showed off a brilliant array of special effects and such, but it lacked the action and true spirit of Star Trek. Star Trek II was much closer to that spirit and Harve Bennett did a helluva job at picking a good candidate episode from the original series to base the movie sequel off of.
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is considered to be the best Star Trek movie of them all. Why is that you ask? Well let’s go into detail shall we? The short version of why is that it takes the more overall premise and nature of what Star Trek was all about and intensifies it greatly. We’re talking the drama, action, suspense, and special effects all enhanced.
The long version of why is this. It explores the facet of age and growing old. I mean think about it. Kirk is an Admiral and though he got his command back temporarily in the first movie, it was only due to extenuating circumstances that forced the Captain that would’ve been, Will Decker, back to commander while Kirk took the captain’s chair. But Kirk is still an Admiral and as such, it’s no longer his duty to be a regular “Captain” anymore. His 5-year mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life, and new civilizations were the good times when he was truly alive. Being an Admiral “behind a desk” has become a grim reminder of his aging. Even his home is filled with antiques ranging from a model sailing ships to clocks to even a Commodore 64 sitting on a desk by the big window. And a visit by his close friend, McCoy leads to a reality check for Kirk from McCoy that he needs to get back his command before he “becomes a part of his collection” before he really does grow old. But those words aren’t enough to make him see this reality for himself. Now on the Enterprise, Kirk visits Spock’s quarters to let him know about the unexpected transmission from Carol Marcus and to just get the Enterprise to Regula I to investigate. But even Spock sees the lack of life in Kirk and offers more words of encouragement for the former Captain that commanding a starship was/is his destiny…his true calling. He brings their friendship into the equation and the trust between them. Kirk knows that Spock would never steer him wrong and those words finally light a fire under Kirk’s ass, and takes command of the USS Enterprise once again where he was meant to be.
Now we certainly can’t forget the truly villainous Khan. Here’s a guy whose tyranny spanned centuries all the way back to 1996 even though 1996 has come and gone with no signs of genetically engineered superhumans. What makes Khan so great is that he actually has a backstory to him. Heck, we’ve seen him before in the original series episode, Space Seed. Here’s a guy who was exiled to Ceti Alpha V for attempting to take over the Enterprise and kill Captain Kirk after he graciously took him in as a guest. And this was before Khan had any personal agendas with Kirk. His genetic engineering background also adds more depth as it reminds everyone of the cliche, “Power corrupts”. Now 15 years later, Commander Chekov and Captain Terrell of the starship Reliant unknowingly beam down to that very planet thinking it’s Ceti Alpha VI in hopes of confirming that there’s indeed absolutely no life and to confirm a test site for the Genesis experiment, an experiment that brings about an unorthodox way of terraforming a planet. But their observations lead to horror when after finding a small cargo carrier setup like a shelter and Chekov reads a belt with the words “Botany Bay” on it. They try to run, but are stopped by Khan and his gang.
One of the other things that brings out the depth of this film and Khan in particular is his quest for vengeance against Kirk. This quest is very much like that of Ahab from Moby Dick. Khan, with his group that have sworn to live and die at his command, will do anything to kill the man he blames for the death of his wife. And that hatred becomes ever so apparent towards the end when he is the only man left alive after Kirk’s last attack on the commandeered ship, the USS Reliant and Khan activates the Genesis torpedo and rigs it to detonate which would destroy the ship and take the Enterprise with it. But the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one, a logical line of reasoning Spock quoted to Kirk earlier in the film. And with that in mind, Spock quietly slips off the bridge and to the engine room. And after planting the seed for the next Star Trek film by rendering McCoy unconscious and mind melding with him and saying one word, “Remember”, he goes in and fixes the warp drive, which was spewing high levels of radiation which would surely kill him. And at the last moment, the Enterprise jumps to warp at the last moment and the Reliant explodes, resulting in the formation of the Genesis Planet.
But hey, I didn’t intend this to become just another synopsis of the movie and I apologize for going on about just the storyline half the time. Simply put, the reason this movie was considered to be the best of the Star Trek films was because of the growing bonds between the crew of the Enterprise, the deep hatred of a madman who would go to the greatest lengths to avenge not only his being exiled to a barren world, but for the death of his wife while using famous Moby Dick quotes to express that hatred, and the ultimate sacrifice Spock made to save his friends at the end. And Kirk couldn’t use a more appropriate description when he said Spock was the most human. I leave you now with the scenes that stand out:
The Kobayashi Maru scenario with Lt. Saavik.
- Khan’s introduction and taking over of Chekov and Terrell with those Ceti eels.
- Enterprise’s training mission (at least while it lasts)
- Khan’s first attack on the Enterprise and Kirk’s retaliation
- “I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her. Marooned for all eternity at the center of a dead planet…buried alive…buried alive.” “KHAN!!!” That whole scene anyway.
- The pre-Mutara Nebula chase
- Inside the Mutara Nebula
- Kirk’s final assault on the Reliant that blows away one of the nacelles
- Enterprise limping away/Spock fixing the warp drive
- Enterprise jumping to warp just in time
- Spock’s death scene
- Spock’s burial via torpedo tube on the Genesis Planet
All I can say is this movie has been described by the fans as the best of the Star Trek movies. And the concept of the movie has been often imitated, but never duplicated. My only suggestion at this point is to see the movie. Better yet, see the Director’s Edition DVD. Even if you saw it already, start it from the beginning and try to truly understand it as it unfolds. I mean if you were to really get into scenes such as Kirk’s hiding out at his home or Spock making the ultimate sacrifice to save the ship, it comes across as very moving. And Ricardo Montalban puts on a simply amazing performance as Khan Noonien Singh. Kirstie Alley showed a very slightly emotional side you don’t often see in Vulcans. Bibi Besch and Merritt Butrick put on good performances as Dr. Carol Marcus and David Marcus and the bringing in of the family Kirk didn’t know he had only added to the midlife crisis that he was going thru. The reconciliation at the end between Kirk and David was done well. And we can’t forget Paul Winfield as Captain Clark Terrell. Though his character was relatively minor, his role was carried out in spades when he chose to take his own life rather than that of Kirk.
Stick around because in part III, we’ll take a look back at “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and how it deals with the issues of loyalty, friendship, and the lengths Kirk would be willing to go to to save his friend.
To be continued…