I’m the worst Trekkie in the world. I have never seen an episode of the original series all the way through, not even “The Trouble With Tribbles.” The only series I have watched from beginning to end is the one that most people universally despise, Star Trek: Voyager. Neelix is not my least favorite Star Trek character, not even on that particular series. I don’t speak a godamned word of Klingon, and I always felt a little bad for Wesley (although, admittedly, I kind of wanted to slap him too.)
And—horror of horrors—the only Star Trek movie I’ve ever watched all the way through featuring the original cast before last night was Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Yes, fellow Trekkies. I humbly acknowledge your disgust, and I bow my head in shame.
As a matter of repentance, I give you a spoilerific review of probably the most critically acclaimed Star Trek movie ever: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Anyone who cares enough to read this review probably knows what happens in both The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, so I shouldn’t even have to put up a spoiler warning. But just in case you missed it the first time, this review has SPOILERS for both films.
James T. Kirk is a morose son of a bitch because he’s accepted retirement too early. You know, being an Admiral’s hard. It must suck to demand that kind of prestige and respect. Anyway, lucky for him that at the same time he’s inspecting the Enterprise, Chekov is busy serving on another ship and getting himself abducted and mind-controlled by Bad Guy Khan, who, in addition to wanting to steal technology that can create whole planets, also has a serious hard-on for revenge. So Kirk and crew go to save the day, and everyone lives happily ever after . . . except Khan, who blows up, and Spock, who dies. Temporarily.
1. First, I have to get this out of the way . . . William Shatner is 80? Seriously? 80? By God, man. If I’m both a significant cult icon and still alive at the age of 80, I’m not going to still be working. I’m going to sit on a fluffy pillow and have young geeks repeat my own witty lines back to me as they have the privilege of massaging my old, wrinkled feet.
Seriously, though. I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised by Leonard Nimoy’s age—the man’s awesome, but, honestly, he hasn’t looked young in a few decades—but William Shatner, man. I would never have guessed.
All right. Back to the film.
2. I love the reboot of Star Trek. (It’s also the only movie where I think ‘reboot’ is an acceptable alternative to ‘remake.’ Because it’s not just a straight remake—they alter the timeline and create a parallel universe. The Kirk you see is not the same Kirk you saw before, and so ‘reboot’ actually makes some logical sense, unlike whenever anyone else uses it to try and get around the stigma of ‘remaking’ something. Fuckers. Anyway.) But I never had any idea how much inspiration it drew from The Wrath of Khan until last night.
There’s the Kobayashi Maru test, of course. The crew is mostly new “kids,” not that we really see any of them except Saavik and Dead Meat (er, sorry, I meant Peter Preston). Still, their newbie status is mentioned more than a couple of times. There are Ceti eels. The villain is on a personal mission of revenge. The captain of the good ship is supposed to surrender himself to the bad guys to save the rest of his crew. There are just tons of homages I didn’t know about, and that’s cool.
3. Another pleasant surprise: William Shatner. See, Shatner’s more or less made a career off of being a parody, and while I don’t know the original series very well, I have seen bits of it here and there, and when I think of Captain Kirk, I tend to think of him like this:
But William Shatner doesn’t do a lot of overacting here. Okay, some. But not the kind of gloriously cheesy overacting that I was imagining. He’s too busy being a gloomy motherfucker. Anyway, it works for him.
As a side note, I read that this movie’s original subtitle was The Revenge of Khan, but I think a better title would have been Star Trek II: How Kirk Got His Groove Back.
4. Here’s a thing that commanding officers should really consider: you have flunkies to do your dirty work for you. Want to check out a possible mysterious life form on a planet? Why don’t you get a fucking Science Officer to do it? Losers.
5. Okay, so now we come to the moment where Chekov magically recognizes Khan, somewhat problematic because Khan was a first season villain and Chekhov was a second season character.
I’d like to think that if I picked a one-episode villain to come back as The Big Bad Guy for my movie, I might, you know, watch that one episode. Maybe take note of who the main cast members were, that kind of thing. But, hey, mistakes happen. This is kind of a major mistake, but that’s okay. You know, cause Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made huge mistakes to, when he wrote his Sherlock Holmes stories, and did he apologize for them? Fuck no. He kept his head up like a man.
Or so the Nicholas Meyer defense apparently goes.
Look, it’s one thing to make a mistake, Meyer, but when you get called on it, your justification really can’t be, “Yeah, but this other, completely irrelevant guy screwed up too, so, really, I didn’t do anything wrong.” Otherwise, our whole legal system would work a lot differently.
6. Other nitpicks: sometimes, you’re going to have to take stuff out for time constraints. It happens to the best of us. But if your Vulcan character says, “Damn,” with feeling and gets teary-eyed at funerals, well, you might want to mention that she’s half-Romulan. Otherwise, Trekkies like me who are watching this for the first time are staring at the screen in slack-jawed horror saying, “What the fuck is this shit? What is she doing? Is that a tear? Is that a godamned tear?” I’m saying, stuff like that is worth mentioning.
Also, it’s nice that your Chief Engineer cares about his crew; honestly, it’s kind of refreshing to have someone worked up over a character who’s clearly insignificant to the audience. That being said, carrying the mostly barbecued, near-corpse of a guy to the Bridge seems like a bit much when said near-corpse is just some random underling. Naturally, it makes a little more sense when you factor in that he’s Scotty’s nephew, but it’s hard to factor that in if you don’t put the scene in the fucking movie. (Although, is there a reason that Scotty’s taking him to the Bridge at all? Wouldn’t Sickbay be a better place, especially consider that Dead Meat isn’t quite dead yet? Should I really be asking these questions?)
7. Klingons have the best proverbs.
8. The most well-known moment in this film, of course, is the scene where William Shatner’s lip trembles for ten seconds before he screams, “KHAAAAAAAAN!!!” in complete and utter rage. First, it was nice to see that moment in context. I giggled like a fiend.
But then something else occurred to Mek and I. See, Chekov and Captain Red Shirt are pretending to be normal again, even though they’re still under the influence of the Ceti eels. (They’re also pretending very badly. While Captain Red Shirt talks, Chekov appears to go into a complete trance. If Kirk was fooled by this act, he should have died a very long, long time ago.)
Then, it appears that Khan’s devious plan has succeeded: he’s effectively marooned Kirk, Kirk’s sugar mama, Kirk’s son, Bones, Saavik, and Chekov down in the Genesis Cave. They’ll live out the end of their lives there while Khan takes his Genesis weapon and starts creating planets amok. Revenge!
Of course, Kirk was tricking Khan like the mad genius that he is. His and Spock’s communication was coded to fool our Big Bad Guy into thinking that he’d won. Which is interesting because one, he needlessly allows the others to think that they’ll be there indefinitely for at least fifteen minutes while he delivers yet another midlife crisis speech, and two, that whole screaming in rage thing? Yeah, Kirk knows perfectly well at this point that he and the others aren’t stranded there. So the most well-known moment of maybe all time in Star Trek history, you know, this moment?
That’s just Captain James Tiberius Kirk being a complete and utter ham.
9. I would also like to submit to the jury: Kirk’s ridiculously curly-haired son? Whiny as shit. I always thought that killing off the Captain’s own kid was sort of a hardcore thing to do, but now that I’ve actually seen him? No wonder they off the bastard in the third movie.
10. A few other things that look pretty bad: Chekhov’s “ear” and Kirk’s fight scenes. I mean, I guess it’s better than this . . .
. . . but I don’t think that’s really saying much.
11. Another possible title for this movie: Star Trek II: Battle of the Books. In this case, Kirk’s book is A Tale of Two Cities, a birthday present from Spock, and for those of you didn’t read this when you were a sophomore in high school, it’s all about sacrificing yourself for a noble purpose. Which really makes it Spock’s book, but Kirk’s the one who gets to quote from it a few times, so it belongs to both of them. Anyway, good guys sacrifice. Blah blah blah.
Khan’s book, of course, is Moby Dick, and you’d think Picard in First Contact might have learned from Khan’s bad example because everyone knows that Ahab was a crazy person and likening your cause to his, consciously or otherwise, automatically makes you kind of a schmo. Revenge is not your friend, people. Unless your a masked vigilante, and even then you’re probably going to have to go through some kind of crisis of faith about it.
Clear winner: Dickens.
12. In a somewhat related note, I feel bad for Joachim, Khan’s right-hand man. It must be hard, being loyal to someone who’s clearly one french fry short of a Happy Meal. You keep trying to tell him not to be an idiot, and he keeps shaking you around and continuing on his insane quest, getting you killed in the process. And what does he mournfully say to your corpse? I shall avenge you? What did I just say about Moby Dick, Khan?
13. So, after Khan sets off the Genesis weapon, Spock sort of calmly exits the Bridge and saves the day. And I know that you’re in crisis mode here, guys, but one of your commanding officers just walked off the Bridge in the middle of imminent doom. PAY ATTENTION.
I snark because I’m, at heart, a big old crybaby who totally busts out the Kleenex during the final Kirk and Spock scene. Even though I’ve seen it before. Even though I damn well known Spock comes back. I’m just an big softie, and this right here?
14. Of course, then there’s, “He’s not really dead. As long as we remember him.” A sentiment that I’ve never much cared for, and one that takes kind of a different spin when you factor in that whole katra thing, Bones.
15. Finally, what crazy new mother/costume designer thought up the Starfleet Bib?
The bib is not an attractive look on any adult male. And you know Dead Meat’s bloodstains are going to be a bitch to wash out.
- Revenge is bad.
- The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.
- There are no “no-win scenarios”. Because even when you think there are, a sequel will come about and prove you wrong.
- Being an admiral sucks.