Review – Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan
Holy crap this film is good. I don't know how many times I've watched this movie, but this week was the first time I sat down and watched it to review it, and wow. Like my Fifth Element Review, Galaxy Quest Review or Star Wars: A New Hope Review, I was really surprised to watch a film that I enjoy and find that it is very technically sound. Of course, just because I enjoy has nothing to do with the quality of the story, I like many terrible things for nostalgic reasons, or because they resonate on a personal level. But when I re-watch those terrible films I can point their failings. There is an intense enjoyment in watching a good movie and finding that it works on layers you'd never noticed before.
Wrath of Khan's main plot is the return of Khan, a genetically engineered superhuman with no morals, who is trying to kill Kirk. However, the emotional story isn't the main story, yes there is some passionate scenes and the perfect reason to quote Moby Dick a bunch of times, but it is the subplot of how Kirk faces death that grabs the viewer and stabs them in the feels.
The theme of this film is how we deal with death. The film perfectly balances Kirk and Khan; Khan turns to vengeance, where Kirk accepts that sometimes life is unfair. In both cases, it is random chance that takes the lives of the people in their life they love; their reactions are mirror images of one another. I would have to say that it is one of the best examples of how to explore a theme in a story. The film doesn't tell us the theme, it shows us, and it shows us both sides of the story through the characters.
Some of the passionate lines of the film are Khan's:
"I'll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up!"
Modified from Moby Dick (Good Hope and the Norway Maelstrom), Khan is consumed by the death of his wife and blames Kirk for her death.
Kirk is setting up his own destiny to deal with death:
"How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn't you say?"
He tells Saavik, showing that sometimes when we teach others we reveal truths to ourselves. Kirk has never had to face death the way he is forced to face it in this film:
"No, not like this. I haven't faced death. I've cheated death. I've tricked my way out of death and -- patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing . . ."
By 1982 when the film was released we had known these characters for 15 years. Wrath of Khan tells a character-based story that a standalone film could never tell. Khan, who was only in a single episode of TOS, returning for this movie consumed by grief doesn't require much character building. But, the loss of Spock in this film could not be told without understanding the relationship between Spock and Kirk.
If you've never watched any TOS and Wrath of Khan is the first-ever time you've been introduced to the characters then this is a fine film, but if you know the characters and the journey that they have gone through – this film is a delicious journey into life, death, grief, and acceptance.
Wrath of Khan is a classic film that I think is the best of all of the Star Trek films (First Contact and Undiscovered Country are my 2nd and 3rd). It has a fantastic plot, excellent worldbuilding (This movie added the Kobayashi Maru test to the lore), and outstanding character development. The acting is great, the directing is fantastic, and the visual effects stand up after 38 years.
If you haven't watched it, you need to; and if you haven't watched it in a while, you should give another viewing.