REVIEW: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Assignment: Trek
A Film Frontier special presentation

For our next Assignment: Trek journey, we return to 1982.

It is June 4, 1982. . . . You are sitting in the movie theater. . . . Your mind accepts this absolutely. . . . It is June 4, 1982. . . . The curtains are opening for the first showing of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. . . . Your mind accepts this absolutely. . . . You have traveled back in time. . . . Soon, you will open your eyes and see the first showing of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. . . .That which you think becomes your world. . . . It is June 4, 1982.

This web site has gone back into time. . . .
Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan
REVIEW: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Almost as soon as the film begins, it is obvious that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan will be far better than its sleepy predecessor, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Director Nicholas Meyer and Executive Producer Harve Bennett, handed the reigns of the Star Trek film franchise by Paramount after Gene Roddenberry’s creative disaster of a first installment, prove from the outset that they understand what makes Star Trek work even better than its creator.

While Admiral James T. Kirk and Captain Spock are taking the USS Enterprise out on a training cruise for Starfleet Academy cadets, the USS Reliant, including First Officer Pavel Chekov, encounters Khan Noonien Singh (from the episode “Space Seed”) and other Botany Bay survivors while scouting out locations to test the Genesis Project.

Headed up by Dr. Carol Marcus, a woman from Kirk’s past, Genesis is a top-secret United Federation of Planets initiative to transform almost instantly dead planets into life-sustaining ones.

Seeking vengeance for the death of his wife, Khan commandeers the Reliant and lays a deadly trap for Kirk and the Enterprise.

Star Trek II surpasses the flimsy first movie for, unlike The Motion Picture, this movie feels like Star Trek right from the beginning.

James Horner takes over as composer and wisely begins the movie with Alexander Courage’s Enterprise fanfare – the Star Trek television series’ best piece of music. The overrated Jerry Goldsmith did not bother to include the Enterprise fanfare in the first movie, favoring instead his lightweight march as a theme for the Enterprise.

Unlike Goldsmith, Horner’s original themes, including the main titles, prove just as compelling as any music from the TV series. His score for an Enterprise launch sequence may be the best music ever recorded for Star Trek.

Want to see what tighter editing and superior music can do for a movie? Compare the Enterprise launch sequence from The Motion Picture and the one from Star Trek II. They are essentially the same scene, even down to reuse of effects footage. Yet the Star Trek II sequence leaves viewers pumped and ready for the adventure to come, while The Motion Picture sequence leaves them wishing that the movie would just get on with it.

The main thing that Meyer and Bennett seem to understand that Roddenberry and Star Trek: The Motion Picture director Robert Wise lost sight of in the first movie is that Star Trek is first about its characters, notably the dramatic relationships between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

The strong bonds between Kirk and Spock, between Kirk and McCoy, and even between Spock and McCoy are displayed early and often in Star Trek II, making their absence from The Motion Picture all the more noticeable. The cold, sterile environment of The Motion Picture has been replaced by the warmth and humanity that made the series what it was.

Meyer and Bennett seemed intent to replace almost everything from the first movie, right down to the uniforms. The awful pajama uniforms are gone, replaced with fantastic new designs that have a crisp, military look.

The duo wisely keep the redesigned exterior of the USS Enterprise, however, even reusing some of the expensive special effects footage from The Motion Picture in creative ways, as noted earlier. The film’s new effects are provided by George Lucas’ Industrial Lights and Magic, and are on par with their incredible work on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Ship-to-ship combat sequences are particularly effective and, perhaps, best even their own work on the Star Wars films.

Add to all of this an intense, well-written story and top-notch acting — particularly by series regulars William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley, as well as newcomer Kirstie Alley — and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a perfect blend.

Skip the first one and start your Star Trek film adventures here. Star Trek movies do not get any better than this.

Story: 10 (out of 10)
Performances: 10
Visual Style: 10
Effects: 10
Music: 10
Overall: 10