Review: “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”

Generally and rightfully considered the best of the Trek movies, ‘Khan’ remains one of the best pure action-packed revenge-motivated films of modern day cinema.

Sure there’s still the sentimental overtones and occasional bit of soul-searching that goes part and parcel with anything Trek, but for the most part Director Nicholas Meyer demonstrated with Khan how to do a sci-fi movie which cost about 1/10th of the first movie and yet was easily five times or more its superior.

This is a tightly-woven action/adventure story which utilises a dangerous new weapon, a lot of space-bound FX fighting sequences, surprisingly personal motivations and tragedy, dark horror themes, good offbeat humour and of course a fierce battle of wills between two of Hollywood’s greatest over actors. Its no wonder that pretty much every Trek film and a whole bunch of other sci-fi films made over the past twenty years have tried to emulate this effort.

Shatner, Nimoy, Kelly and the rest seem far more relaxed and laid back than in their first big screen adventure. The change of setting to 15 years after the first film’s events allows for a new angle as each character has a whole new history, are in different positions and gets to utilise the ‘too old for this’ style gags which work well here (they became a crux in later entries).

A real surprise is Kirstie Alley as Spock’s protege Saavik, Alley has the commanding presence required for the character yet pulls off the vulnerable scenes quite well – its still arguably the best performance of her career. Montalbahn whoops it up as the nefarious Khan, a man bristling with long-winded phrases that quite a few of which have become pop culture references such as “the old Klingon proverb revenge is a dish best served cold…it is very cold in space!!!” to Shatner’s screaming of “Khhaaannn!!” after being left stranded underground to die slowly.

Khan works as a villain in that yes he’s larger-than-life but Montalbahn has a dark serious tone to him that makes you thoroughly believe he will carry out everything he sets his mind to, whilst his motivation remains that most simple of reasoning – revenge for the death of his beloved (which he blames Kirk for).

Though the FX are now a little dated (esp. the phaser shots), the model usage and sheer amount of screen time spent focussing on FX battles and such is enough to keep one entertained. Its not the visual wizardy that make these fight sequences work but rather the sheer thought and strategy put behind them. This isn’t about who has the bigger gun but rather who picks the right time and way in which to use it.

The first confrontation in space is a tense sequence which includes an ingenious (and quite logical) solution whilst the nebula face-off is still a great drawn out piece of action. Even the subplot revolving around ‘Genesis’ remains a remarkable idea – its good writing, directing, solid acting and visual flare which all combine to tell a dark, streamlined yet rich story.

In many ways this is a wild and fun space adventure which just happens to have ‘Star Trek’ in the title, its very accessible to non-fans and even the hardest of cynics against all things Trek have to agree that this is the closest the film part of the franchise ever came in terms of storytelling and visual punch to that of the original “Star Wars” trilogy (certainly ‘Khan’ is an easily superior flick to the first two SW prequels). Even twenty years on this has hardly aged a day, sci-fi at its best.