Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan


  With the financial success of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Paramount was ready to once to boldly go where Star Trek had only been once before: the silver screen. I can't imagine expectations were sky high after the quite divisive previous movie, yet Trekkers everywhere were in for a treat with this one.  As a sequel, The Wrath of Khan is nothing like it's predecessor. It's much more of an action-adventure movie. Yet, one that deals with age, and mortality. Like any good Trek picture should, in the midst of all it's swashbuckling adventure, it grasps high concept ideas. Perhaps the existence of gods, or the meaning of life were out of it's reach this time... but the movie doesn't fall short of being a smart and emotional thrill ride.

  Straight from the annals of the original series, a notorious villain returns to torment the crew of the Enterprise and settle a personal score of revenge with the now-Admiral James T. Kirk. This villain of course is the eponymous and much loved Khan Noonien Singh. Before this movie, he was just a villain of a random episode of Star Trek. It wasn't the most fantastic episode, and is really only supremely memorable because of Montalban's performance and because it led to this movie. Otherwise it's average Trek fare. Yet... here we are. Khan has become probably THE most memorable Trek villain ever. People who don't even like Star Trek can appreciate this one movie. Khan's gravitas as a villain and as an opponent to Kirk is mind-blowing and devastatingly effective.

  The movie is really about him and his super soldiers hijacking the U.S.S. Reliant, and squaring off against Kirk and the Enterprise. In the midst of all this is something called the Genesis missile. If detonated on a moon or barren planet, it has the capacity to turn said lifeless rock into a lush thriving planet with rain forests, oceans and entire ecosystems. If used on an already inhabited world however... the effects would be apocalyptic. So between this revenge play between Kirk and Khan, the Genesis missile is Khan's endgame. He wants it and it's power, the power to simultaneously create and destroy. So alot more hangs in the balance than the fate of both crews. Khan is power mad enough to use the missile on a populated world and remake the aftermath as he sees fit. It's a neat way to raise the stakes and certainly invokes a sense of danger and importance.

  This movie is probably one of the most accessible to new audiences, unfamiliar to Star Trek. It has an ideal blend of humor, wit, and adventure to satisfy any movie goer. Also, Wrath is darker. One of the darkest Trek movies. People die by the handfuls, Khan is ruthless and insane. The movie pulls off a fantastic balance of lightheartedness and adventure, with lots of grim material. The movie still holds up well today with only the simplest of effects looking dated or unconvincing. For extremely well versed trekkies, there is a glaring continuity error in this movie. Concerning the fact that Chekov was not in the first season of Star Trek on TV. Thus his character would never have met Khan, who's debut was in the season one episode, Space Seed, yet Khan claims to "...never forget a face."

  Regardless, this little issue aside, the story and the movie itself is surprisingly great. Maybe not the paragon of perfect sci-fi lots of fans claim it to be, it's a simple action movie. One that excels at what it does, but it was to it's era, what Into Darkness is to ours. Granted, Into Darkness has far more plot holes and has the sad disadvantage of being unoriginal, yet still. In concept, and in tone, the movies are very similar. They both aim to excite. They both do so with ship-to-ship phaser fights, fist fights, shootouts, explosions, and melodramatic actors shouting and growling their lines at each other with promises of revenge and lots of death. The difference is that The Wrath of Khan does so in a smart and theatrical manner. A lot of thought and care obviously went into this one. From the story, to the execution, The Wrath of Khan is a shining example of Star Trek at it's most exciting.

  The problem with this one is that, it's hardly an ideal Star Trek movie. It's possibly the best, but not an ideal one. The wealth of the movie is the back and forth battle between Khan and Kirk. Phaser fights and old vendettas are not what makes Star Trek... Star Trek. By itself, and on it's own merits, this is a great movie. Simply awesome. It's a classic space-faring adventure with plenty of well made and thoroughly exciting set pieces. The cast and the characters have a chemistry and a dynamic that has been fostered to perfection over decades. These guys work so well together, they're simply an irresistible joy to watch. They dash around the movie with gusto and heart, from exploding starship bridges to majestic underground caverns. Space adventure movies are rarely this well made or this exciting. Rivaling only that of the original Star Wars, The Wrath of Khan is timelessly fun.

  Yet... there is a lack of awe. Except when the results of the Genesis missile are revealed to us. There is no real exploration, no... boldly going anywhere. The Trek mandate is to seek out new life and new civilizations - to boldly go where no man has gone before. This is quoted at the end of almost every movie and in the opening of the original show. Yet, Wrath feels slightly stagnate in this regard. Most of the movie takes place in a very singular vicinity. Thus, the movie feels rather claustrophobic in scope. Yet this complain can only be leveled at the movie in comparison to the other movies, and the show. On it's own, it's a damn fun movie with amazing watchability. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

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