tek's rating: ½

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (PG)
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Caution: Spoilers!

This is the second film based on the TV series Star Trek, and the first in a three-movie story arc (though all three films are self-contained stories). It came out in 1982, three years after Star Trek: The Motion Picture, though it's unclear exactly how long it's set after that movie in-universe. By some accounts, the first movie was set in 2273, but it actually could have been anywhere from 2273-78 (and an earlier source placed it in 2271). Meanwhile, this movie is set in 2285 (even though onscreen it's just referred to as "in the 23rd century", which is annoyingly vague). It also follows up on the events of an episode from the TV series, "Space Seed", a story set in 2267, 18 years before "The Wrath of Khan", even though in the movie the events of that episode are said to have happened "15 years ago". (I'm assuming characters were just rounding down.) But hey, maybe you don't care about any of that. I should say, though, that this is considered by many fans to be the best film in the Star Trek franchise. (Personally, I'd say it's probably only my third favorite, but at least all my favorites are even-numbered.) Anyway, I re-watched this in 2023 as part of my summer of Star Trek.

It begins with a Vulcan named Saavik (Kirstie Alley) in command of the Enterprise during a dangerous rescue operation inside the Klingon side of the Neutral Zone, where Starfleet ships are not allowed. But that soon turns out to be a simulated training exercise called the "Kobayashi Maru", which is being overseen by Admiral Kirk. (The Kobayashi Maru test became an iconic part of Star Trek lore. I'm still not clear on whether it's something all Starfleet cadets need to undergo, or just officers who hope to command starships. In any event, Saavik isn't a cadet, she's a lieutenant.) At this point it seems that the Enterprise is actually under the command of Captain Spock, though I also got the impression that he's more of a teacher at Starfleet Academy than an actual starship commander. But the Enterprise is mostly crewed by trainees (I'm not sure if they're still cadets or if they've graduated from the Academy), though some of the familiar crew (McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu) are still apparently in their old positions. Which seems odd to me; I feel like they all should have advanced in their careers, by now. Chekov, meanwhile, has advanced. he's now first officer of the starship Reliant, which is commanded by Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield). But I'll get to them in a bit. It's Kirk's birthday, and Spock gives him an antique copy of A Tale of Two Cities. Later, McCoy gives Kirk a bottle of contraband Romulan ale, as well as a pair of glasses (because he is allergic to the treatment Retinax; incidentally, my own fanfic character Jax DeSabel is also allergic to Retinax). McCoy also tries to convince Kirk that he should get back command of a starship. (It's unclear how long he held onto command of Enterprise after the previous movie before resuming duties at Starfleet Command, or whatever he's doing now.)

Meanwhile, Reliant is on a mission searching for an entirely lifeless planet on which to test the Genesis device (which rapidly terraforms planets) that has been created by a group of scientists on space station Regula 1, led by Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch). Her team includes her son, David (Merritt Butrick, whom I vaguely knew from the TV series Square Pegs). He turns out to be Kirk's son, though Kirk either has never met him or hasn't seen him in many years, since Carol wanted him to stay away from David so that he wouldn't grow up to be like his father (which I guess means joining Starfleet, or whatever). David doesn't know that Kirk is his father, but he learns the truth by the end of the movie, and they have a nice scene together. Before that, he hates Kirk and Starfleet in general, and believes they'll want to turn Genesis into a weapon. Anyway, Chekov detects a faint trace of life on the planet Ceti Alpha VI, and he and Terrell beam down to investigate in the hopes that the sensors were wrong, because they're getting tired of their current mission, I guess. What they find is that the planet is inhabited by some of the crew of the Botany Bay, led by Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban, reprising his role from "Space Seed"). He recognizes Chekov, which is odd because as many fans have noted, Chekov didn't join the cast of "Star Trek" until some time after that episode. (But he's been retconned as having been an unseen member of the crew at the time.) Khan and his people had been left on Ceti Alpha V after that episode, to start their own colony. Starfleet was supposed to check up on them from time to time, but for reasons never explained, they obviously didn't. Because Ceti Alpha VI exploded and shifted the orbit of Ceti Alpha V (so that it was now where Ceti Alpha VI should have been, and Chekov and Terrell were on the wrong planet). That wreaked havoc with the environment and killed nearly all life on the planet. All but some rather nasty little eels that wrap themselves around people's brains, and Khan uses them on Chekov and Terrell to be able to control them. Somehow this leads to Khan and his people taking control of the Reliant and marooning the crew on Ceti Alpha V. (I have no idea how they managed to take over the ship with just two of its officers under their control, but whatever.) Khan wants to gain control of the Genesis device, for reasons that never seemed clear to me, but he's also obsessed with getting revenge against Kirk. (One of his crew tries to convince him that's not necessary, but like I said, he was obsessed. He also quotes some lines from "Moby Dick", which I recall being used later by another of Montalban's characters, in an episode of the show Freakazoid! And at one point he refers to a very human line from some other thing I've never heard of, "revenge is a dish best served cold", but calls it a Klingon proverb. How he even knew of the existence of Klingons is beyond me, let alone why he'd attribute the line to them.)

Well, I feel like I've said too much already, and I've barely begun to set up the plot. I don't want to say much more, but Carol sends a message to Starfleet, Kirk assumes command of the Enterprise and heads to Regula 1, and... the whole movie basically turns into a cat and mouse game between Kirk and Khan. In fact, it's often compared to a submarine movie, and the battle scenes between Enterprise and Reliant are pretty interesting in that sense. There are lots of things about this movie that I remembered well. There were the lines Kirk read from "A Tale of Two Cities", and some of Khan's quotes, and the Ceti Alpha eels (which don't really look like eels), and Kirk shouting "Khaaan!" (though that was not nearly as drawn-out as I remembered it being), and the line "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one", and... I dunno, lots of stuff. And plenty that I didn't remember as well. But there's also some incredibly important stuff that I'm going to avoid spoiling until my review of the next movie. And... there are things that didn't make sense to me, like it's just ridiculous that the Reliant crew failed to notice they got the wrong planet. And that when Chekov told the Enterprise crew about the creatures Khan put in his and Terrell's heads, no attempt was made to extract the eels. And however passionately he disliked Starfleet, I find it hard to believe David could have believed them capable of doing what Khan did to the scientific team on Regula 1. But it's a great movie with plenty of action and drama and just a bit of humor, and great character interactions. And there's a decent sequel hook, though that may be more apparent in hindsight, after having actually seen the sequel. (Which also, I feel, somewhat lessens the impact of the most personally dramatic aspect of this movie, something I've avoided spoiling. But I will say I have always had mixed feelings about one of Kirk's lines at the end of the movie.) And... I guess I don't know what else to say. It's just a really great movie, even if it's not quite my favorite. And I totally understand other people thinking it's the best Star Trek movie, especially if you're more into drama than humor.

Followed by Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

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