With the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013), the first sequel to the rebooted series, it seemed like the right time to go back in time 21 years and review the first sequel to the original series of movies: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
I first saw the film soon after it’s release, and, while the film had faded from memory, a scene still lingered – that of an earwig digging it’s way into someone’s brain. I wasn’t sure anymore how that scene fitted into the film, but that scene has to this day been a strong memory for me – and maybe has contributed to my fascination with the characters of Star Trek, whether they be on TV (“Star Trek: The Next Generation” (TV) was always my favorite, but I have seen episodes here and their from the other shows as well) or on film.
Now that it’s been close to two decades since I’ve seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and a little more than two decades since it’s original release), would the film have withstood the test of time, and still manage to entertain, or is the earwig sequence so memorable to me because it was the only interesting thing about the film at all?
The success of the Star Trek franchises – whether it’s the film or the TV versions – has always relied on a strong core of characters for the viewer to follow along and grow with. While the missions themselves always garner the viewer’s attention, thanks to the innate romantic adventurism contained within the idea of “boldly going where no one has gone before”, it’s the characters that viewers have become attached to over the years – and those characters are the reason why viewers keep returning.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan saw the familiar characters from the original series return to the big screen, with now memorable names like William Shatner as “Admiral” James T. Kirk, Leonard McCoy as “Captain” Spock, George Takei as Mr. Sulu, among the crew. While Shatner’s pause-filled delivery has developed over the years into an iconic joke, it’s a reverent one, as he has managed to make Kirk one of the more memorable characters in modern history. Nimoy’s deadpan delivery of Mr. Spock, hasn’t managed to make as much of an impact, but he has managed to work his way into pop culture with his classic “Live Long and Prosper” slogan and hand sign.
In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, their performances showcase why they remain pop culture icons to this day, as they manage to walk a fine line between decent and hokey, with Kirk able to combine a sense of a man growing older who still has a spark of that dashing hero, just waiting to be released once again.
The villain this time around, Ricardo Montalban, is more noted for his “Fantasy Island” character than for his recurring role in the original series, but manages to match wits with Kirk and give him a good run for his money. While he can never quite manage to portray true evil, or even insanity, he still seems a decent foe to match wits with Shatner’s portrayal of Kirk.
The film, while a good adventure epic, isn’t without it’s faults. Without getting more than a narrative back story of what has caused Khan to become the man bent on revenge against Kirk, the villain never seems to be much more than a nuisance threat, someone the viewers never doubt will eventually lose to the hero. If the film had spent a little more time showing Khan’s back story (especially a poignant sequence involving the death of his wife), viewers may have more cause to feel worried about the threat posed to the hero.
That being said, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan ends with a shocking loss for the crew of the famed Enterprise, and one can only imagine what the film’s impact was on fans back in the day. Now, of course, with the benefit of having seen the series through, viewers have a certain foreknowledge of the events to come. Back then, however, the loss must have been devastating for fans of this crew.
Like with most films set in a future time, the technology showcased loses a bit of luster after a few decades, and the small box-like TV screens and other similarly outdated equipment seems ancient. Thankfully, however, the outdated equipment is showcased on an outpost seen in the film, rather than on board the Enterprise itself. Thankfully, the equipment on board the ship – like the transporter beams and the warp drive core – still seem futuristic enough to lend credence to the filmmaker’s intent on setting this film far in the future.
With a strong plot and a shocking ending, not to mention the nostalgia of seeing the original Enterprise crew in action, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remains a film worth watching. While the shock of the ending has faded thanks to the continued evolution of the series, and the film isn’t without it’s faults, it’s still decent enough for viewers new and old alike to enjoy even more than two decades after it’s release – and that’s an impressive feat all by itself.