Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan has stood the test of time for many reasons. Not only is it widely agreed to be the best of the big-screen Star Trek films, it is also the one that will make Trekkers cry (in an earned way, as opposed to a “this film sucks” way), plus it contains one of the greatest moments in Star Trek history, shown here on YouTube, or even better, forever looping on http://www.khaaan.com.
Kirk (William Shatner), the original space cowboy, is now an Admiral, feeling his age (he gets eyeglasses as a gift from McCoy!). “Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young,” he complains to Bones, despite the fact that he desperately misses the action of being stationed on a ship. Of course, adventure falls into his lap: While showing a bunch of cadets the ropes on his beloved old ship (now used as a training ship), he hears a distress call from an scientific outpost, where one of his hottie exes happens to be stationed.
The source of the distress is traced to the reappearance of Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), who has a grudge against Kirk. You see, 15 years earlier genetically-enhanced bad boy Khan and his peeps from the SS Botany Bay were exiled by Captain James T. Kirk. Khan has captured Chekov (Wlater Koenig) and his captain (Paul Winfield) on a reconnaissance mission to a dusty planet, then taken over their minds by quite literally putting bugs in their ears (yikes!). Kirk and the Enterprise (conveniently along with most of the rest of the familiar faces like Spock, Sulu, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura) go to check out the distress call, and find not only that it seems everyone at the science outpost has been slaughtered, but that Khan himself is waiting there for them with sinister delight.
The Wrath of Khan works for many reasons. The writing of the movie is a return to the right combo of smirky camp and dead-on moral seriousness. The adventure has serious weight—Khan wants his hands on Project Genesis, a tool that could turn a dead planet into a living, breathing, life-sustaining Class M planet in a matter of days. The worry, though, is if Genesis gets into the wrong hands (Khaaaan!) it could potentially be turned into a tool of evil, rather than good. Plus the end of the film has true, bonafide emotional weight as one of the most beloved characters sacrifices himself. (When I rewatched this with Tim recently, he looked to see if I was crying… and I would have been, if my weeping weren’t interrupted by a most explosive sneeze. I sure know how to kill a moment!)
But the most memorable and adored thing about this movie by fans is Khan himself. Khan is arguably the best villain of the entire theatrical Trek series (along with the Borg Queen of Star Trek: First Contact). Ricardo Montalban (who is not genetically-enhanced, despite his magnificent man-breasts) has the right amount of charm and evil that make him one of the all-time best movie villains.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is included in the Star Trek Motion Picture Trilogy DVD set (which includes movies II, III, and IV), and has been remastered in high definition. Extras include feature commentary by director Nicolas Meyer and producer Manny Coto; “James Horner: Composing Genesis” in which the composer talks about creating the “seafaring” score; “A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban”, by Nicolas Meyer, who has an alarmingly emotionless way of speaking (which is why, I suppose, he stays behind the camera); and the rather silly straight-faced “Starfleet Academy SCISEC Brief 002: Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha IV”, and training video for cadets that shows convenient “historical footage” straight from the movie. Best though is “Collecting Star Trek’s Movie Relics” hosted by Alec Peters, C.E.O. of Propworx, that is thrilled, and I mean thrilled to own things like worn assault phasers used in Star Trek V. His enthusiasm and inherent pleasure in the toys of Star Trek is truly infectious and fun, and understandable for hardcore fans of any show or movie.