Wrath Reviewed

a review of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan by Kiel Stuart
originally published in Stardate 17, December 1982

The only thing better than seeing a wonderful movie for which your expectations are high is seeing that same movie with extremely low expectations. As it was based on "Space Seed," my expectations for Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan were low indeed. What could be salvaged from one of Star Trek’s silliest episodes? An adventure wherein the whole Enterprise crew seemed to fall prey to terminal stupidity? Wherein, if any one of the personnel had acted out of common sense, the entire story would have evaporated? Ah, well. At least it would provide me with ammunition for a blazing spoof. "Boss, Boss, the Starship has landed!" I had a twinge or two of doubt. The clips had looked exciting. Surely they had only- compiled the best two or three minutes of film to hawk on Merv or Mike. But clips don’t tell the story. It had to be a real dogeroo.

But I was wrong.

Searching for a lifeless planet on which to test Dr. Carol Marcus’ Genesis project, the Reliant (Commander Chekov and Captain Terrell aboard) stumbles upon Khan Noonien Singh, exiled by Kirk on Ceti Alpha V, fifteen years before. Khan takes over the Reliant, then sets out to steal Genesis and avenge himself on Kirk. The Enterprise is on a training cruise, and responds to the emergency call with only a handful of experienced crew and a coterie of cadets.

The inevitable clash with Khan is thrilling. My heart was literally pounding the last twenty minutes of the movie, and the audience alternately cheered and applauded.

Critics everywhere seem to feel that this is a very good movie, and I have noticed something quite strange: a tacit agreement among those who have seen the film not to discuss the end with those who haven’t.

The magic of Star Trek is back.

After the vastly disappointing Star Trek: The Motion Picture, perhaps anything would be enthusiastically received. What we got, however, is as near perfection as Humans could produce. Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan plunges into action, the pace never lets up, and the finish dazzles. It deals with life, death, and life again. There is humor, charm, warmth, and resonance.

The sets, particularly the brief glimpse of Kirk’s cabin, are lovely.

The uniforms, which stirred a bit of controversy, are the best-looking and most functional we’ve seen. Special effects are good, but not obtrusive or substituting for a story, as they were in the first film. Ricardo Montalban is simply magnificent as Khan. Shatner turns in a witty, bravura performance as Admiral Kirk, and Kelley as Dr. McCoy, younger-looking and more relaxed than in years, is endowed with the appropriate mixture of skepticism and compassion. The Romulan/Vulcan, Saavik, played by Kirstie Alley, is a character with great potential. Koenig has a great deal to do here as a smart, able Chekov. Bibi Besch’s Dr. Marcus seems to be the first "romantic interest" who’s more than a match for Kirk, mature, wry, intelligent, capable.

But I did say "near perfect." There was a notable lack of non-Human aliens aboard the Enterprise. Extraterrestrial teamwork and understanding was one of Star Trek’s basic premises, one that lifted it from the realm of Lost in Space to something that refuses to die. It was blandly ignored in this film.

There is also—and every time I’ve seen the film, an audience member or two remarks on this—an infinity mirror in Spock’s cabin. What did he do? Pick it up on Starbase A Go-Go? Quite inappropriate.

When Spock and McCoy fall into a brief scrap after seeing the Genesis presentation, the scene seems a bit forced. It’s as if they were giving us the obligatory Spock/McCoy adversaries-but-friends-under-the-skin byplay.

Last, and most disconcerting, was "Mister" Saavik. Why "Mister?" Because she’s a Romulan? Because she’s acting as Spock’s First Officer? I hardly think her shipmates would have failed to notice the difference in gender. Because of naval tradition? So noted, but it drew a disproportionate amount of attention, disrupting the flow of a film that, for the most part, coursed along like a thoroughbred charger.

But those are awfully minor points, aren’t they? This is good film-making. Unlike Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan would beguile even a casual movie-goer with no special interest in Star Trek. Nicholas Meyer’s tight, forceful direction kept attention from flagging—something that can hardly be said of the first, rather flabby film. There was a better story this time, by Harve Bennett and Jack Sowards, that could (and did) stand on its own.

main.gif (14802 bytes)

Free counters provided by Andale.

banner.gif (2815 bytes)

Click here to return to the Star Trek novels page.
Click here to return to the Main Index Page.