Movie Review – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

1982 Paramount Pictures
Four Stars

“It is better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven.” – Khan
After the sort of success of Star Trek: The Motion Picture Gene Roddenberry took a back seat not quite by choice and producer Harve Bennett was brought on board to make a more exciting and much cheaper sequel. Reusing a lot of FX shots from the first movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan also made extensive use of reused and repurposed sets and props in an attempt to avoid the staggering (at the time) 43 million dollar price tag of the first movie. Nicolas Myers was at the helm to direct the latest adventure.
Set 15 years after the events of the episode Space Seed (12 ½ years after the first movie) the sequel brings us back to the planet Ceti Alpha V where Captain Kirk left the 20th century exile Khan Noonien Singh and his followers after they failed in their attempt to take over the USS Enterprise.
As the movie opens there is a new Captain on board the Enterprise. Sulu, Uhura, and Scotty are in their usual positions as well as Doctor McCoy. Soon everyone is dead. Roll credits. Just kidding. Anyway Chekov is a now a Commander and assigned to the USS Reliant on a mission to find a suitable planet or moon to test out a new experimental device known as Genesis. After a planetary mix-up that apparently was explained more thoroughly in an earlier draft of the screenplay Khan is unleashed once more and seeks vengeance on the man he blames for the death of his wife. Kirk once more takes command of the Enterprise to stop the genetically enhanced Khan.
Turning away from the more epic and cerebral approach seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture Wrath of Khan focuses on the story and characters more than the special effects this time around. Kirk is once again Kirk not the somewhat ineffective man from the first film. We learn a lot about what makes Kirk tick in this movie and he becomes more human for us as he deals with aging and loss. The dialogue between Kirk and Spock is some of the best ever between the two characters and the interaction between McCoy and Spock is more like the give and take banter of the original series. Ricardo Montalban is terrific as Khan adding a new Captain Ahab obsessive twist as he tries to destroy his white whale. He plays Khan with a restrained craziness that is perfect. The supporting cast is given a little more to do and make the best of what they are given. I do wish they had been given bigger parts over the years but I guess it wasn’t to be. The script except for a few minor complaints is smart and the movie is perfectly paced unlike the slow moving first movie.
On the music front James Horner reuses his trusty and flexible Battle Beyond the Stars/Humanoids from the Deep/Aliens/Krull/Wolfen/Uncommon Valor music score but it fits wonderfully despite the utter lack of originality. The new special effects by ILM are great and the design of the Reliant is awesome. It was nice to see an alternate starship design after all the years of seeing only the constitution class ships.
All in all I find this the best of the Trek movies. It simply hits all the marks perfectly and feels like a continuation of the series rather than an attempt to reboot the story from a new viewpoint like Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
The good:
The opening scene in the simulator is very well done .

Well the crew is dead. Good first command Mr. Saavik.

Ricardo Montalban really nails his performance as Khan.

The design of the Reliant is awesome.  Just beauteous.

The battle scenes are extremely well done.

James Horner’s incredible all purpose music score fits Trek really well.

The not so good:

It’s too bad they had to recycle many of the effects shots from the first movie.

Can’t say I was thrilled by the budget limited additions to the engineering section. The rent a prop computer banks stick out like a sore thumb. They don’t match the design scheme of the rest of the ship at all.

Nice rental props. I remember seeing those on Buck Rogers

Hey look here they are now. Go Buck stunt double!

Random thoughts and observations:

I have to admit to wondering what could have been if Roddenberry had been allowed to steer the course once again. I know the complaints leveled against the first movie and I agree with quite a few of them however the more militaristic approach taken by Myer’s in this movie is not quite what Star Trek was about. However that complaint aside this is an all around more entertaining and well structured movie.

The new uniforms look hot and uncomfortable. They strike me more as a dress uniform than something that would be worn for everyday use.
Why is Kirk so worried when Saavik pilots the Enterprise out of dry dock? If she gave the order “Mr. Sulu hard about, warp 8.” I doubt very much he would do it. I would think a first year cadet could tell the helmsman to go straight very slowly and don’t run into anything.

This is the most god awful ugly transporter console ever to stink up the screen.

Why can’t they destroy the Genesis device by blowing up Reliant, beaming aboard and phasering it, or beaming it into a million particles?

So when did Khan’s followers change their ethnic background? I recall them looking quite different in Space Seed.
The additions and changes Nicholas Meyer made to the interior of the Enterprise are kind of silly and don’t fit with past incarnations of Trek to well at all. No smoking signs?

What was the Enterprise doing in dry-dock again? Why having no smoking signs installed of course!


“I’m sorry Scotty there’s nothing I can do. If only you had brought him to sickbay sooner instead of taking a trip to the bridge.”

My favorite scene:


The Reliant approaches the Enterprise.


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