Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) – An Amazing Exploration of Obsession, Revenge, Mortality and a Life Fully Lived

Kicking off “Star Trek Week” and the lead-up to “Star Trek Day” with my favorite of the films in the franchise. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is easily still the best “Star Trek” film and one of my all time favorite films. This is a film with amazing music, action, characters and themes. This film was so much fun to return to and is a beloved classic for a reason. This is a film that explores the themes of obsession, revenge, mortality and the well lived life and I can’t recommend it enough if it is a film you haven’t seen yet.

The film was directed by Nicholas Meyer with screenplay by Jack B. Sowards.

The story follows Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) as he must face an old foe in Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) seeking revenge against him and to stop him from getting the powerful Genesis device.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – James Horner’s soundtrack is fantastic and captures the wonder of space travel and life while giving sadness in the moments of loss. It reaches the highest highs and captures the operatic nature of the film so well. This is a soundtrack I look forward to returning to.

The Action – The action is precise and always advances the plot and characters. It is action with consequence as the ships are damaged in standoffs and force Khan and Kirk to think there way out of limited options in their quests to defeat the other. It never lets up to as the moments of quiet build upon the themes and drive the characters and story forward.

The Characters – I liked all the characters in this so will give a little bit on why for each group or individual characters as what they go through is what drives the story and makes it matter. There are very few films with no weak performances and this is one of those few films.

The New Enterprise Crew – The Enterprise is crewed largely by cadets as “The Original Series” crew are their mentors as Spock captains this new crew on their first mission. Many of them die sadly too in the face-off against Khan as he pulls Kirk into his trap.

Dr. David Marcus – Dr. David Marcus is Kirk’s son who resents him at first believing him to be that bog standard evil Starfleet Admiral who wants to use Genesis to their own ends. He is proven wrong and it is great to see his relationship grow with Kirk over time to the point that he respects him and is proud to be his son by the end.

Dr. Carol Marcus – Dr. Carol Marcus is Kirk’s former lover who asked him to leave and he respected it. She wanted to raise David as a scientist and you see why in the awesomeness and wonder of the life Genesis creates. She clearly is a scientist to help others and from this you see why Kirk fell in love with her. Bibi Besch does a good job in the role returning from the show.

Scotty, Sulu and Uhura – Scotty, Sulu and Uhura are all support training the new crew and keeping the Enterprise afloat. They all are given moments to shine in their roles as engineer, helmsman and communications and I only wish they’d been given more and that we saw more of the mentorship. Scotty is the main mentor to the crew we see in action the most. Takei, Nichols and Doohan continue to be memorable in their roles.

Chekov – Chekov is working on the Genesis project and is a hostage to Khan for most of the film until Kirk and the others kill the eel larvae. His ship Reliant becomes Khan’s but Chekov does resist when he is being forced to kill Kirk and in the end gets to torpedo Khan, getting his own revenge for the death of his commander and being hostage. Walter Koenig is great.

Saavik – Alley’s Saavik is the one giving us a new perspective of Kirk and Spock as she is the one who follows regulation but questions. Her knowledge of regulation is what saves them from Khan the first time when he nearly defeats them and in the end she is who Kirk admits to that he he cheated the Kobayashi Maru, the test we see her fail at the beginning as it is the unbeatable test. She’s a fascinating Vulcan and the navigator in Chekov’s absence. Her perspective enriches the film as she notices how human Kirk is and respects him for it.

Dr. McCoy – Kelley’s McCoy is the one who most helps Kirk face his mortality and is the one to join him on any away mission. We see how deep their friendship is as McCoy brings him Romulan Ale and spectacles on his birthday and is the one to motivate him to command and not be an Admiral. It is fitting as this is what helps Kirk decide to lead the Enterprise again and stop Khan.

Spock – Leonard Nimoy’s performance in this is iconic and easily one of his best. He is there to remind Kirk that how a life is lived matters and gives him A Tale of Two Cities as a birthday gift. He is Captain but like McCoy prompts Kirk to lead. He dies as he lived in this film with “The needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few, or the one.” He saves the ship from Khan’s last act of weaponizing Genesis. I think if Spock had died for good here it would have been the perfect sendoff even though I like the stories he got later after this film.

Admiral James T. Kirk – This film is such a great exploration of Kirk as he tackles what it means to live as he is growing old and must face his mortality and eventually the “no win scenario” he avoided his entire life. Shatner gives so much here as we see him build a relationship with his son, reconnect with Carol, face Khan and his conversations with Spock and McCoy. He grows from it all and this film gives us some of his greatest speeches and probably his best character arc.

Khan Noonien Singh – Ricardo Montalbán’s return as Khan was a brilliant choice. Having him lose his wife and most of his crew gives him a compelling revenge motivation as well as Kirk did never return to check on The Botany Bay Colony on Ceti Alpha V. We see his obsession reflected in his books too as on the ship we see Paradise Lost and Moby Dick to name a few books with a focus on loss and revenge that Khan himself quotes. He is one of my all time favorite “Star Trek” villains and to his last breathe he is trying to get revenge upon Kirk even when his crew are questioning him and as he loses everything. No other versions of his story and revenge motivation have ever been as well captured in any of the other “Star Trek” films.

An Exploration of Revenge – Revenge as consuming obsession is another theme captured in Khan and his desire to kill Kirk even when he has the chance to walk away. Revenge is shown to be destructive and all consuming in Khan as he loses everything but nothing else matters but revenge, not even his life.

Mortality and Death – The “no-win scenario” and the Kobayashi Maru capture the theme of death that Kirk never had to face until this film. We see the affect it has too as Kirk is vulnerable after and that how one dies is as important as how one lives.

A Life Well Lived – A life lived for others and with awareness of those relationships is what is most important. We see this in Spock’s sacrifice and the relationships Kirk reforges with Carol and forges with David. We also see that in that new relationships in life in the Genesis device creating a planet from the nebula. Spock’s example is lived on in the life of those left behind and how important that fully realized life is where one lives for the needs of the many.

This film is a classic for a reason and one I cannot recommend enough. From the performances, the themes, the soundtrack and the action this film gives so many unforgettable moments that each time I return to this film I notice something new. This film is a favorite that does so much and I hope we can see more “Star Trek” and science fiction films as powerful as this one in the future.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The perfect “Star Trek” film.

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