Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) Director: Nicholas Meyer
“I Have Been…And Always Shall Be… Your Friend.”
In contrast to the first Star Trek motion picture, the sequel The Wrath of Khan is an inspiring return to the series for fans, despite the original creator Gene Roddenbury being forced out of the creative process due to the lackluster critical response to the first film. Leonard Nimoy was lured back to the franchise with promises that Spock would die at the end of the film, but early news leaked and caused a frenzy of anger among fans.
“Wrath” or “revenge” is a central theme in the film. It is the same same motivation found in Homer’s classical warrior archetype, Achilles, in the Iliad. The idea of ‘blowback’ also plays a significant role – a hero can either live long enough to face his past demons, like Kirk facing Khan, or he can end his life for the sake of his friends, like Spock. Self-sacrifice and friendship, logic and passion, play an intriguing role between Spock and Kirk throughout the movie.
The Wrath of Khan is a terrific yet challenging film. It forces the audience to question the true heroism and infallibility of Star Trek’s central protagonist, Captain Kirk (reprised by William Shatner). In it, we are drawn back to a 1967 episode of Star Trek entitled “Space Seed” (one of the most popular episodes) in which the Enterprise discovers a ship cast adrift in deep space with a group of people kept alive for hundreds of years in suspended animation. The group is led by Khan Noonien Singh, or simply “Khan” and they are actually the product of 20th century genetic engineering. However, the experiment went awry – the new humans became vicious tyrants and caused the Eugenic Wars of the 1990s. After a fight with Khan, Kirk holds a hearing and banishes the group as exiles to a remote and desolate planet, Ceti Alpha V. Khan reluctantly agrees, citing John Milton’s Paradise Lost and his desire to “tame a world.” As the mission ends, Spock wonders what the planet would look like in 100 years under Khan’s rule.
With this backstory in mind, The Wrath of Khan picks up where the first film ended. It opens with an amusing simulation of a Klingon attack on a starship headed by a young a diligent lieutenant named Saavik (played by Kirstie Alley). The scenario is crafted by Starfleet to be a no-win scenario, but we later learn that Captain Kirk is the only person to beat the no-win simulation because he rewired the program (he does not believe in a no-win scenario). Meanwhile, another starship (the Reliant) is on a mission to discover a lifeless planet as part of the “Genesis Mission” -a project to launch a device capable of reordering dead matter into a habitable world for humans. The crew beams down to a planet called Ceti Alpha VI, but they are soon captured by Khan (played by Ricardo Montalbán, who also played the role in the original episode more than 15 year prior) along with Khan’s forces. After Khan was initially exiled to Ceti Alpha V, the planet combusted killing many of Khan’s people, including Khan’s wife (who was featured in the Star Trek episode). Khan implants insects, the only surviving species of Ceti Alpha V, into the ears of the crew members he has taken hostage in order to control their minds, and thus he gains entry to their ship where he learns of the power of the Genesis Device.
Meanwhile, Kirk assumes control of the Enterprise when they receive a distress call from Regula I, another starship. En route, the Enterprise is intercepted by the hijacked Reliant. In the course of a surprise attack, the Enterprise is greatly weakened and, to Kirk’s horror, he discovers the leader of the Reliant is his old nemesis, Khan. Thanks to some quick thinking by Spock and Kirk, they are able to escape and they beam aboard the Regula I station. They arrive to find it ransacked, with several dead bodies, but the previous Reliant crew members enslaved to Khan are found alive. However, they all venture to secure the Genesis Device, created by Dr. Carol Marcus (played by Bibi Bersch) Kirk’s former lover and mother of his son, David. The Genesis is retrieved by Khan, and both ships fight in an even match, however the Enterprise mortally wounds the Reliant. With his dying breath, Khan echoes Captain Ahab in Moby Dick as he activates the Genesis Device which promises to reorganize living matter. The Enterprise does not have the warp drive capacity so Spock sacrifices his life to repair the ship -he is initially prevented by Dr. “Bones” McCoy but Spock performs a quick mind meld with him, muttering “remember” before proceeding to his certain death. The Enterprise escapes while the Genesis Device has created a new habitable planet. At the close of the film, Spock dies of radiation poisoning and he is given an honorable and emotional burial as his coffin is jettisoned from the Enterprise onto the new Genesis planet.
The film introduced a young 28-year old composer named James Horner. He delivers a brilliant musical score, one of many future scores to come.