Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan review
It’s largely accepted that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan has withstood the test of time so well that it’s still the benchmark by which all the other films in the series are compared. I have my own theory as to why this is – in true head-on Trek fashion, the second Star Trek feature film helps us deal with the one reality that is absolutely inescapable: the fact we are all getting older and will eventually die. The film’s theme of how we face death being at least as important as how we face life is extremely poignant, even for those of us who were children when this film was released in 1982 (by the time the next Star Trek film was released, I had seen The Wrath of Khan dozens of times on premium cable movie channels HBO and Cinemax).
Leonard Nimoy’s performance as Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan provided William Shatner’s Kirk with the rock of calm and serenity the latter character so desperately needed in this film and for which fans fondly remember the character. I’ve always found it interesting that this is a Spock who is more comfortable in his own skin than ever before, having acknowledged and finally accepted his Human half in the previous film.
Meanwhile, Kirk’s character is going through the opposite dynamic of the one he endures in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In both cases, he is going through a mid-life crisis that only assuming command of the Enterprise again can resolve. However, where in the first film he pushes himself into the center seat at the expense of her rightful captain and then has to learn to let go and take responsibility, in this film he starts out as trying to let go and move on from starship command, and his friends, Spock and McCoy, are both pushing him back into the center seat, an endeavor they of course eventually succeed at.
The adventure that follows is exactly the swift, quick kick-in-the-seat-of-the-pants that so many of us who face mid-life crisis need, Khan representing what we can easily become if we let those feelings of “life passing us by” get to us; an embittered old man (played by the magnificent Ricardo Montalban) tries to take out his frustrations on Kirk… in an extremely deadly way.
At the climax of a battle that is riveting and exciting (satisfying my childhood crave for action, upon my initial viewing), most relevant is the way the conflict ends, Spock showing us his own solution to “the no-win scenario,” which is a metaphor for something we all feel as we face life. Leaving the door open for Spock’s possible return, though, was a wise decision made by Harve Bennett, who was more than deserving of the praise he eventually received over this film. Also, the moment Kirk subsequently expresses (his voice not much higher than a whisper) that he feels “old, worn out” never gets old for me, because it speaks to us and reflects how we often feel… at any age.
But where would all of this great drama and action be without the right musical score? Other than featuring a main title theme that I found would take some getting used to at first, the score for the film, composed by Trek newcomer James Horner, was suitably triumphant when our heroes were in a good place, and creepy and doom-threatening when they were in a not-so-good place. Horner’s main title theme for the film went on to withstand the test of time and became one of the most beloved in the franchise.
In summation, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a memorable, classic film with a great narrative and very fitting music. It’s more than just a submarine-inspired riveting space adventure; it’s a story that will continue to resonate with us, all through life.
A freelance writer, Douglas has several years experience writing newsletters, sales copy and movie reviews. He is also the author of the screenplays Supralight and Bloodstone: The Sorceress and the Warrior. His reviews of Star Trek films (as well as a DS9 retrospective) have been published on the TrekSphere website.