Movie Review: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Image stolen from Google Images, as well as being a screencap from Futurama. Don’t sue me, FOX!

Wow. My 100th official post. A pointless milestone that will be forgotten in a few years time. Better enjoy it while it lasts.

I started this blog (when it was called “Geek Zone”) as a class project in High School. I was to post some of my assignments to this blog. In the meantime, the class was also given free reign to post whatever else they wanted to this blog. I went with episodic reviews. After the class ended, I… kept reviewing TV shows. First Red Dwarf, then Gravity Falls, then certain episodes of The Simpsons. Then the blog got renamed, because, well, I wanted a new name.

So, what could I possibly do for my 100th post? What thing could I review for my 100th official post? It has to be monumentus, brilliant, epic… and other synonyms for “great” that I can’t think of.

Ladies and Gentlemen… after the jump….

At the end of the universe… lies the beginning of vengeance.
(Poster made by Bob Peak, stolen from Wikipedia).


Premiere: June 4th, 1982

Synopsis: It’s Admiral Kirk’s 50th birthday, and age is starting to show for the once revered captain of the Enterprise, as he is reduced to giving prospective captains mere pointers on how to command in a no-win scenario… especially since he had found a solution. However, Kirk is called back into battle one last time when Reliant is hijacked. The hijacker is Khan, a former eastern prince who was exiled by Kirk on Ceti Alpha V, a once beautiful planet turned desolate by the shift in the gravity of the sun caused by the death of a neighboring planet.

Khan proceeds to attack space station Regula I and acquire the device called Genesis, which can create a new planet in six minutes. Ironically, Genesis is being developed by Kirk’s former lover, Dr. Carol Marcus. Despite having the resources to develop a new planet, Khan becomes focused on seeking revenge on Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise.

Review: In my review of the Gravity Falls episode “Land Before Swine”, I mentioned that The Breakfast Club was my second favorite movie from the 80s. As one commenter pointed out (yes, I do get the occasional comment), I should’ve mentioned what my favorite movie from the 80s is.

This is it.

In fact, it’s not my favorite 80s movie. It’s my favorite movie… period.

The Wrath of Khan, you see, was a movie that, thanks to the fantastic directing of Nicholas Meyer, brought back tons of depth to a great franchise that was sullied by the overtly campy and somewhat simplistic Season 3 of The Original Series. Episodes like “Spock’s Brain” and “The Way to Eden” are mere puddles compared to the ocean-deep Wrath of Khan. All of them are a joy to watch, but in far different ways.

You see, The Wrath of Khan, in the span of less than two hours, manages to put down several themes: age, loss, rebirth, revenge, cheating, and power. Let’s focus on age and cheating first.

As several other reviewers have pointed out, this episode showed that Kirk was undeniably flawed. You see, in The Original Series, Kirk bordered on being something of a Mary Sue: he rarely seemed to make a “wrong” decision, and everything seemed to work out right in the end. There were certainly exceptions (“The City on the Edge of Forever” saw him have to choose between his two loves: Janice Keller and the Federation), but by the end of the series, these moments had grown far, far fewer. Here, his “ace” persona has caught up with him: his bravado that he once possessed caused lasting damage to his ship and killed several members of his crew. Of course, it leads to the most famous ending in Star Trek history, which most of you know, so I won’t go into detail. All it really does is force Kirk to face the fact that, sometimes, life throws you a raw deal you can’t get away with.

Kirk has also cheated several aspects of the impact of age. He managed to evade the no-win scenario for the Kobyashi Maru (demonstrated in the Meyer-verse in Star Trek), and got commended for “original thinking”. He cheated aging by obtaining a pair of glasses. Through TOS, it could be argued that he cheated the consequences of his actions by either some deus ex machina or dumping whoever was the antagonist on the nearest planet… such as Ceti Alpha V. It comes back to bite him in the end: the villains dumped on Ceti Alpha V (in “Space Seed”) come back and attack the Federation, Kirk is forced to face the no-win scenario in a way that is deeply painful to him, and Kirk finds out that his womanising ways have spurred a son, David.

Ironically, in a film that ends with a painful loss for Kirk, the film also has an overhanging theme of rebirth, and the power it yields. Project Genesis at first seems like a MacGuffin to get the plot moving: it literally recreates a planet in six minutes, yet it also erases everything within a certain radius. This is based on the book of the Bible Genesis (as stated by Dr. McCoy): in Genesis, the Earth was created in six days. Genesis does it in six minutes. Of course, the power this device yields has already been revealed, as a revenge-minded macho ex-prince steals it. In the end, he contemplates detonating it, knowing full well it will kill him. Kirk gets hit with this hard: in the end, he has to contemplate on the recent events, and even goes as far as to say that he feels young: the events of late have created a newer, yet wiser, Kirk.

Going into more of a technical focus, this film does a stellar job at the power struggle between Kirk and Khan. Visually, the two never meet face to face. This was done to create a balance of power between the two sides, yet it also shows the mirror focus between each other. You see, both are leaders on starships, made stupid decisions to rid themselves of each other, and wound up, at best, gaining a pyrrhic victory. Stunning, eh?

Visual effects are awesome. This movie is occasionally compared to Star Trek: The Motion Picture in terms of effects. I’m willing to concede that the effects in Wrath of Khan are only slightly weaker compared to those in The Motion Picture. Yet, TMP was not only produced with effects in mind, but was produced on a budget of $43 Million dollars ($140M in 2014 money). Wrath of Khan‘s effects were placed somewhat in the “secondary” pile, so to speak, and the budget was $10M ($24M in 2014 money). The difference in effect quality is minor. I could attribute the decline in the production budget to not having to build new sets, but my point still stands.

Actors in the Star Trek franchise are often stereotyped as being either hammy or just putting enough effort in to get a paycheque. That’s not as pronounced. Sure, Ricardo Montalban hams it up as Khan, but William Shatner’s trademark acting is toned down, DeForest Kelley seems to put more effort in here than he did during a good chunk of season 3 (notice a pattern here), and Leonard McCoy… is, for the most part, perfectly stoic.

The character development is fantastic. Elaborating would be pointless, so I’ll just say that all but a few characters get some form of development… especially Scotty and (what is implied to be) his nephew, Peter Preston. The resolution between the two is perfect, yet also tearjerking.

While this is a largely character-based movie, the action scenes are quite well-done… mainly because most of the action is strategic on part of the characters. There’s no action for the sake of action: the action included is either for the sake of strategy or for the sake of character development. (Hear me, Nemesis?)

I feel like I’m gushing a bit much, so I’ll just complain a tiny bit. When Chekov first meets Khan, Khan instantly recognizes Chekov. “I never forget a face”. Fine and all… except that when “Space Seed” aired, Walter Koenig wasn’t part of the cast. It’s minor, but still a tad bit grating.

Other than that… we’re dealing with a fantastic movie here. Effects are good, character is fantastic, the script and themes are sublime… this is the best Star Trek movie,  and my all-time favorite movie.

Tidbits: Just a few…

  • This film made 9 times its budget back at the box office, compared to TMP, which only gained back 3 times its budget.
  • This movie was so loved in the Star Trek franchise that it was siphoned three times:
    • Star Trek: First Contact took the “revenge” aspect of this film, and put it in a more overt action setting.
    • Star Trek: Nemesis took the “trapped on a barren planet” plot and the “spitting image” between the two main characters, Shinzon and Picard, as well as the misplaced revenge gone awry.
    • Star Trek: Into Darkness was pretty much a remake of the movie… except with more ‘splosions!
  • Love the Moby Dick references.
Favorite Scene: God, it’s hard to pick. However, if forced to pick one, I would have to go with the scene with the “Garden” in Regula 1. There’s so much character packed into that one scene. Also, William Shatner actually acts.
Least Favourite Scene: I can’t even pick a poor scene. Mmm… maybe… I can’t pick. This is an almost perfect movie.
Score: 10.
…… So, happy 100th post. Some notes about the future?
  • Gravity Falls will be back August 1st. Here’s my plan:
    • I might do a feature similar to the “Behind Us Forever” posts on the Dead Homer Society, where I would take bullet notes as the episode airs on things I noticed about the episode. Mine will be less cynical… mainly because, unlike modern episodes of The Simpsons, Gravity Falls is good.
      • Speaking of which, Josh Weinstein, the showrunner for Seasons 7 and 8, will be writing some Gravity Falls episodes for season 2. Just. Awesome. Knowing his role as showrunner, he might be writing the more “down-to-earth” episodes of the show. Or not.
    • I will, however, do a normal review of the show within days of its original airing. I’m on something of a self-appointed tight schedule for the first review of the season, “Scaryoke”, since I want to get that out before “Into the Bunker” airs three days later. (By the way, nice scheduling, Disney XD!)
  • Red Dwarf reviews will be back over summer. I plan to drive through Series VII and VIII by the end of the summer, partially because I have free time… and partially because I want to get through with the reviews.
  • The Simpsons… again, I’ll have free time to watch Season 9. The second half of the season, if I can remember, will be less “boring” than the first act, instead starting with good first and second acts before falling apart in the third.
  • I plan to introduce a fourth “regular” review segment in the future… as in, another show.

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