Review Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan film review by G. H. (Gman)
Written By G. H. (Gman) on 2015-01-09 14:25:32
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It's far more interesting to look at Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as a standalone science fiction epic than as another run-of-the-mill entry in the Star Trek franchise. The 1980s was filled to the brim with science fiction masterpieces: Blade Runner, Robocop, Aliens, The Terminator, Predator, The Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future, etc. The Wrath of Khan stands just as tall as any of them.
What strikes me as so brilliant about this picture is that director Nicholas Meyer had a number of hurdles to overcome: The lackluster critical reception of the first film, the significantly smaller budget, his knowledge of the Star Trek universe — or lack thereof. Yet he jumps these magnificent blockades with the directorial and screenwriting equivalence of an Olympic high jumper.
James T. Kirk has never been so human. Putting the Captain (Admiral) of the Enterprise through a midlife crisis is, ironically, the best thing that could have happened to the character. But Meyer refuses to stop there! While Admiral Kirk is at his lowest, a surprise visit from a fifteen year old adversary throws him into the presence of a lost love and estranged son. The latter characters created a terraforming device that Khan seeks to use as a doomsday weapon. It's an ingenious and classic scenario for raising stakes and it works beautifully for Star Trek's main character.
Opposite of Shatner's improved performance is Ricardo Montalban's Khan. Appropriately over-the-top, Khan remains the single most persistent, mad and impressionable villain in Star Trek. A curious point of praise is that Shatner and Montalban are never on-screen together. The fact that their rivalry is so fantastically heated without sharing a set makes this tale all the more brilliant.
In addition, I've always adored how Star Trek II gave the Enterprise and her battles a new sense of functionality. Inspired by maritime militarism, the film's production design portrays the Enterprise crew like old British explorers aboard an intergalactic submarine. The uniforms themselves worked so well that they became the standard costumes for the next few movies.
Blending a revenge tale with themes of aging regret and parallels of life and death was, admittedly, not a seamless idea. However, it works well enough to awaken greater truths about human adventure than Star Trek: The Motion Picture ever could. Science fiction's finest has often used other worlds to explore ourselves and this picture is no different. If Wrath of Khan were merely a great Star Trek film it would have been a win. As one of the genre's finest examples of storytelling, however, it is a bar in which to aspire.