This week I have decided to cover the unjustly derided vehicle known as the sequel. This is Second Verse Same as the First week. Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) – Rated PG
“To escape his desk job, Adm. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) returns to the USS Enterprise, assisting Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in a training mission for Starfleet cadets. But the inexperienced crew is put to the test when escaped villain Khan (Ricardo Montalban) steals a powerful weapon and comes after the admiral seeking revenge. Now, Kirk must use all his wiles and whip the cadets into shape if they hope to defeat Khans deadly traps.”
“Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor”
Some sequels are better than the original film. Star Trek II is a rare sequel in that it is good where the original was not. The only two things to recommend the original Star Trek the Motion Picture are that it got made, thus bringing back Star Trek as a franchise and the couple minute Klingon sequence which is actually pretty good.
Thankfully director Nicholas Meyer jettisoned the baggage of the first film and went back to the fun of the original series. Say goodbye to the dry as toast utilitarian science fiction of Star Trek The Motion Picture and say hello to the sci-fi fun of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
After proving that he could take established properties (Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper) and rewrite them in wonderful interesting ways (The Seven Percent Solution, Time After Time), Nicholas Meyer was given the reins to Star Trek. Here he essentially did the same thing that J.J. Abrams would do in the Star Trek reboot – take fan-favorite ingredients (original cast, The Enterprise, etc.) and direct something entertaining for all.
In spite of having a large number of people writing it (Harve Bennett, Jack B. Sowards, Samuel A. Peeples, and Nicholas Meyer), the script does not feel overburdened or erratic. The idea is brilliant – go back to a previous episode and extrapolate. Unfortunately this led to the first few seasons of Next Generation copying classic Trek episodes instead of establishing its own identity. On the flip-flipside it also led to a wonderful Deep Space 9 episode where they go back in time to The Trouble with Tribbles.
Most of the original cast are back on board. Only Majel Barrett as Nurse Chapel and Grace Lee Whitney as Yeoman Janice Rand seem to be missing here.
The flamboyance of Shatner as Kirk is not only fun but integral to match the flamboyance of Ricardo Montalban in his role as Khan. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Bones (DeForest Kelley) bicker and represent intellect/reason and emotion/humanity respectively as always.
James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei all do a great job of reprising their roles as Scotty, Uhura, and Sulu. I am singling out Chekov (Walter Koenig) because even though he recognizes Khan and the Botany Bay in the movie, he actually was not in that episode of the series. Back in the day, Starlog had a humorous cartoon showing Chekov and Khan meeting in an Enterprise restroom to explain the omission.
The non-Trek cast vary wildly in ability. Ricardo Montalban is divine as the vengeance fueled Khan and naturally represents the top of the scale. Paul Winfield adds a touch of class as Captain Terrell. At the bottom is Merritt Butrick as Dr. David Marcus, who is just awful and shrill. In between we have Kirstie Alley as Saavik and Bibi Besch as Dr. Carol Marcus.
As with most Star Treks, there are quite a few nits to pick. The USS Reliant has to send down a party to search for life on Ceti Alpha V/VI. Who do they send? Security – nope. Scientist of any kind – nope. They send down the Captain and the First Officer with no escort.
On a hilariously personal note, Spock allows Saavik to take the Enterprise out of space dock for the first time. As I watch this, my youngest has just passed her Drivers License exam and I gave her the keys to drive on her own for the first time.
Nicholas Meyer keeps the action moving and stages a couple of really good starship battles. Shatner overacts but not too badly, Montalban overacts a ton but is a complete hoot, everyone else is along for the ride. This is arguably the best of the Star Trek movies – the only one I think comes close is the Star Trek reboot.
Side note: A bunch of the Star Trek movies are about the Next Generation crew and they all have big budgets. Why then are none of them even remotely as good as the 2-part Borg TV episode or even the 2-part Klingon episode?
I heartily recommend Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Plus the transfer looks gorgeous – better than I have ever seen this movie at home.
Netflix presents this movie in beautiful HD assuming you have a good internet connection.
People Watch: Composer James Horner has a cameo as an Enterprise crewmember. Dance Fever host Deney Terrio also has a cameo as one of the henchmen of Khan.