Peruse a bunch of Star Trek themed websites or ask a gaggle of Star Trek fans to rate their Star Trek films, this one here 'The Wrath of Khan' will be at the top of most of those lists. Some will go with 'First Contact', but we are 'Wrath of Khan' guys over here at the FCU. At the bottom of most of these lists will be the second reboot of Star Trek with 'Into Darkness'. That one I don't agree with… though I will be the first to admit that it's barely a Star Trek movie. But today my friends we are here to talk 'The Wrath of Khan' which is not only a great Star Trek movie, but just a great movie period, and to also tell you why Khan Noonien Singh is a better villain than Darth Vader. Yep, I said it.
After the beautiful, allegorical snore fest that was Star Trek the Motion Picture, Admiral James T. Kirk has settled in to his administrative duties at Starfleet, much to the dismay of much of his old crew, especially his good friend Dr. McCoy (the late DeForest Kelly), but Kirk has resigned himself to the fact that star hopping in space ships is for the young.
Then while on a simple training exercise upon Captain Spock's Enterprise, Kirk gets a distress call from his former lady love Dr. Carol Marcus (the late Bibi Besch) that doesn't ring right. What Kirk doesn't know, as he makes his way to the space station, is that his old nemesis Khan (Ricardo Montalban) has gotten ahold of himself a starship, and he means to do Kirk all kinds of personal harm.
You will be hard pressed to find someone who dislikes anyone as much as Khan dislikes Admiral James Tiberius Kirk. Whatever problems Khan has in life at the moment, he has determined that Kirk is responsible for them, and this hatred does kind of affect the self-proclaimed genius of Khan to make rational decisions. Thank goodness for this because there's no telling what that whackjob would've been able to do, with the resources at this disposal, if he wasn't making so many bad decisions which counteracted Kirk's own litany of crappy decisions.
Action looms. Kind of. It's Star Trek action… you know… people rocking back on forth on bridges, people running up and down the hallways of starships, fancy light shows hitting giant stationary targets, which cause fires and more people rocking back and forth. But we wouldn't have it any other way. When Sulu (George Takei) tells Kirk he can't get a lock on the Reliant, I'm thinking it's gigantic, it's right in front of you, it's barely moving… and you can't hit it without Space Radar Locking Technology? Come on Sulu. Anyway, awesomeness will ensue.
Watching 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' for the first time in an awful long time has only endeared it more to me, albeit probably for different reasons. But let's get a few things that bothered me out of the way. Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) and his self-sacrifice. Come on brother, put that phaser on stun. And the fact that the parasite that fell out of Checkov's ear never did grow and wrap itself around his cerebral cortex like Khan said it would, and just harmlessly fell out his ear. Khan's decision to eject the original crew of the Reliant was an awful tactical decision. Keeping them on the ship makes Kirk's decision to fire upon and destroy the ship a much more difficult one. Khan eventually gets the transporter coordinates for the Genesis missile, but Kirk had ample time to like move it to the left a little bit, and make Khan transport nothing. Just a few things that bothered me upon my Blu-Ray revisit.
But it's a terribly awesome movie. Nicholas Meyer directs a movie that is uniquely Star Trek, but also finds a way to be fresh and new. We still have the same characters we've grown to know so well over the years, including a fresh look at Mr. Shatner's singular acting style which never ceases to cause amusement, there's the nice humorous touches offsetting the overall seriousness of the rather dire situation the Enterprise finds herself in, there's the freshness of a very young Kirstie Alley as Lt. Saavak and we have always found the redesigned uniforms that were in 'Wrath of Khan' nothing short of amazing. Where the first movie was slow and plodding, this one was urgent, vibrant and ultimately exhilarating.
But make no mistake, it is Ricardo Montalban and Khan that is the straw which stirs this drink. We have been part of some arguments over which is the preferable film, this one or the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Well, 'Empire' could very well be the best movie ever made… and this is coming from a person who prefers Trek over Wars… but I do maintain that Khan is the better villain. Why? Because Khan answers to no one, because Khan is only in service to revenge, because Khan kept it real until the bitter end. Do you think if Khan's offspring was on the Enterprise, he would have hesitated blowing it up? Of course he wouldn't have, and this kid would've understood this because he knows his dad stays true to the game. Unlike Vader. Khan was irrational and foolish and self-important, which ultimately made him just a gawdawful leader, but he was pure and honorable and the late, great Ricardo Montalban made him a joy to watch. Sadly, a large number of the cast members are no longer with us which also makes this particular film even more special. Octogenarians Shatner and Nimoy seem to be immortal and look be hanging out on this planet for a while to come.
'The Wrath of Khan' is flawed, and we see these flaws more clearly now than we did thirty plus years ago, but it is still loved and probably loved by me even more because of its flaws.