An aging Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) no longer captains a starship, instead overseeing training simulations for upcoming recruits. On one such exercise, Kirk takes over command of his beloved Enterprise when Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), a genetically engineered superhuman Kirk has run into before, attacks a space station containing a terraforming device.
If you’ve missed any of my updates this year, you may be unaware of my 2021 mission to watch all the pre-reboot Star Trek films, as before this year began I hadn’t seen anything Star Trek related that didn’t star either Chris Pine or Tim Allen. I really enjoy all three of the reboot films, and Galaxy Quest is easily one of the greatest films ever made, no question, so I felt it was time to watch the originals, especially given I’ve had them all in an unopened DVD boxset for a few years now. When I announced my lacklustre thoughts on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I was met with a rousing cry of “Yeah, it’s not great, but now you’re onto the good stuff!” The Wrath of Khan also appears on Empire’s Top 301 Movies of All Time list, and it’s been maybe my biggest blind spot film for a while now, so I went into this viewing hopeful and expectant.
This, it turns out, was a mistake. Is The Wrath of Khan better than The Motion Picture? Undoubtedly. No question about it. One hundred percent. There are no dialogue-free twenty minute shots of a spaceship exterior. There’s a decent villain. The entire cast aren’t wearing pyjamas. But did I prefer it to any of the reboot films? Nope. I was still bored for parts of it, the climactic battle doesn’t have a good sense of location, direction or intent, and yeah, some of the crew costumes are still terrible. The Engineering crew are the last ones who want to be wearing white! Everything they do is going to have oil and grease involved, even in the 23rd century! Come on!
I think a problem could be that there’s a famous sequence in this film, towards the end, [SPOILER WARNING] in which a character dies. It’s something I knew was coming, and I knew exactly how it would happen due to it being mirrored in Star Trek Into Darkness. Perhaps it was this foresight that removed much emotion from the scene for me. Or perhaps it was that, over the course of these first two films, the Kirk/Spock relationship hasn’t been developed much at all. Granted, I understand that there’s a couple of hours of TV episodes in which Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) might get to know each other a little better, but in this film alone Kirk spends far more time with Bones (DeForest Kelley), his former lover Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and his potential son David (Merritt Butrick). I felt far more in Into Darkness because more work had been put into the relationship, or at least more work that I’d witnessed. I get not having seen the TV series is entirely my fault, but it’s a fault of the film-makers to include something so pivotal in the film that relies upon doing so much homework beforehand for it to make any kind of an impact. That being said, Spock straightening his tunic inside the radiation chamber before turning to speak to Kirk one last time really was a beautiful moment. [END OF SPOILERS]
Montalban was pretty great as Khan, although he didn’t live up to the iconic role status that has been bestowed upon him, but I did love his one-sneeze-away-from-nipples cardigan look. The leech-like mind controlling aliens were effectively disgusting and gave Chekhov (Walter Koenig) some good scenes, and McCoy remains a highlight for me, although by now he should be less vexed by Spock always acting based on logic, given that’s the entire backbone of his goddamn character. Similarly, if McCoy is going to keep volunteering for missions, he also needs to stop complaining about them all the damn time. I could have done with a bit more for Sulu (George Takei), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Scotty (James Doohan) to do, although again that’s probably coming from a more modern perspective where everyone gets their hero moments in the new films.
After this one, supposedly the greatest Star Trek film ever, I’m now very wary of continuing my journey through the rest of the saga, but plough forth I shall. If you want my rankings so far – this is something I’ll hopefully keep up with in my monthly round-ups as I watch new entries – then it’s as follows:
Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek Beyond
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Once I’ve finished this project I’ll revisit the reboots and check my feelings on them now – it’s been a few years since I saw any of them – but for now I can only apologise for not appreciating this more. Is there anything I missed in the film that makes it so great? Please let me know!
Choose Life 6/10