Directed by Nicholas Meyer
A simple planetary survey to find a test site for a new Federation device accidentally sets free genetic superman Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban). Now with vengeance on his mind, Khan lures Adm. James T. Kirk (William Shatner)-the man that imprisoned him on Ceti Alpha V fifteen years before-into a conflict with the fate of the galaxy hanging in the balance.
This is the critically acclaimed follow-up to the financially successful yet not exactly critical darling Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This is by far the best of all the Star Trek films. It is what good Star Trek is: character driven with plenty of action and deep ideas. Too often that gets missed in the franchise.
Khan was the dark reflection of Kirk. As good and capable as Kirk was, Khan was equally as capable and equally as evil. Both characters in the original series were evenly matched just as they are here. And when you have the main characters ultimate nemesis return you have to up the stakes and with the Genesis Device they do just that. Khan is a genuine threat to not only the crew but to the Federation if he should succeed. They touch on life and death and mortality and even toss in the threat of universal Armageddon.
It’s just the greatest of all Star Trek films. It had the best villain. It had the best script. It had the best story. There was fantastic acting throughout. It grew the characters. And it did so on a lower budget than its predecessor. Star Trek is a different animal than Star Wars or a Marvel movie. Star Trek is about story as well as the acting. Focus on that and you can have a great film on a smaller budget.
Even though the previous film had made money it hadn’t been the runway success that studio executives had hoped but it had been enough of a success to justify a sequel so with that in mind they green lit a sequel but with a smaller budget. In my opinion this movie looks better than the first film. You get one of the first federation ships that’s not the Enterprise with a different name slapped on it. And the Reliant is a good-looking design. I still think it’s one of the best.
And how can I not mention the snappiest looking Star Trek uniforms ever? The uniforms from the previous movie looked like pajamas to me. I’m glad they did a complete redesign here. They look great.
This movie brought James Horner into the Star Trek fold and he produced here the best Star Trek musical score. The opening theme mixes wonder and excitement and danger all into it and he is able to use the music throughout the movie to highlight those feelings in every scene when it’s appropriate. James Horner was a genius and produced some of the best soundtracks. Why the composers that came after him in the Star Trek films didn’t follow his cues I do not know. I’m not saying copy him but rather they should emulate him. The man did everything right when it came to Star Trek.
One thing this movie does well is it ages each of the characters. It moves some of them forward in time rather than trying to maintain them in the state they were during the television series. Sulu is implied to no longer be on the ship when he says something about any chance to get aboard the Enterprise. Chekov has moved on to the Reliant. Talk about bad luck. Spock is now in command of the Enterprise. Even Kirk is starting to show his age by wearing glasses.
Kirks regrets are much more front and center in this movie. He definitely misses being on a starship. Growing old is upsetting him as demonstrated by when McCoy shows up at his apartment with a pair of glasses and Romulan ale. The glasses were a nice touch. They were a small reminder throughout the movie that Kirk was no longer the young starship captain that he once was. Shatner turns in an amazing performance here as an older Kirk.
At the beginning Kirk is still cocky and sure of himself. He clearly believes that no matter what happens he can save the day with little to no cost to him personally. In this film he is confronted with mortality and his own limitations when stock sacrifices himself to get the Enterprise warp drive working. That scene is some of Shatner’s best acting in any of the films. Kirk breaks at the loss of his friend and spiritual brother. Afterwards he is a changed man because he realizes he is not this unstoppable and infallible hero and that his actions do indeed have consequences.
The death of Spock is one of the few movie deaths that moved me. I remember when I went to see the film it was known to me that Spock was going to die. I didn’t know how it was going to happen or at what point in the movie, but I knew it was going to happen. Even so my jaw dropped and my heart sank. I was heartbroken and devastated when I left the theater. I thought that character was gone forever. My young mind couldn’t see any way they could bring him back.
I didn’t know until years later that the episode that inspired this movie was a first season episode meaning that Walter Koenig was not a member of the cast at that time. Much like Harve Bennett and other more recent fans, I had watched Star Trek in syndication and in syndication the episodes were shown out of water. I knew Koenig came in during season two, but I didn’t know Space Seed was a season two episode so the opening scene when they find the cargo container and Chekov realizes what they found did not bother me. Even now it doesn’t bother me. I think the best explanation is that Chekov was just not seen until season two for some reason. The most popular explanation for that is that he was a member of the night crew.
This is a masterpiece of filmmaking. It is a science-fiction classic along with being the best of the Star Trek movies. It demonstrates that Star Trek doesn’t need a big budget. It just needs a good character driven story.