For the second time in two weeks we watched a partially entertaining Star Trek movie from 1982 (it was kicking around the community lost and found), and after this last viewing I was roused to stay up late and write a review. Here it is:
As with every original series undertaking, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan features deliberate and occasionally acrobatic overacting. The director of this rather low budget affair is Nicholas Meyer, and it stars the regular stable of Star Trek crewmen. Kristie Alley makes her big screen debut as a young Vulcan Starfleet lieutenant, bringing crucial non-overacting to the Enterprise—she even has a short but credible Vulcan exchange with Mr. Spock. After the movie ended, I realized she was supposed to be the hottie; the sexiest thing they allowed her to do was take her hair out of a bun.
After ten or fifteen minutes of lively but pointless filler (Kirstie Alley is first onscreen, followed closely by William Shatner, who emerges from a room full of fog machines) the actual story is introduced. The plot opens with two Enterprise officers, Mr. Chekoff and a nameless African-American who won’t live through the movie, on a mission. Wearing boxy garbage can space suits, they beam down to a barren planet and are immediately taken captive by the enigimatic Khan Noonien Singh (Roberto Montelban) and his crew of eighties outcasts. The two officers’ helmets are actual beach balls with plastic view screens sewn in. Their space suits have convenient handles on the front, so Khan can pick them up and drop them in a playful fashion.
Khan is the unquestioned leader of a group of genetically engineered superbeings (created in the year 1996), and possibly for this reason he alone has a Spanish accent. Fifteen years before (in an episode of the original Star Trek series), Captian Kirk jettisoned said superbeings onto a planet that turned out to be lifeless and harsh—Khan’s wife and many others died. In the present, they’re still wearing the clothing of their exile: tattered head bands, puffy vests, brown parachute pants. On a bookshelf in their aluminum sided hideout: a copy of Moby Dick, which on second viewing was just ham-handed foreshadowing.
Khan and his feathered hair crew manage to take over the ship Chekoff beamed down from (the first of many plotholes; these twenty people have no weapons to speak of, yet overpower a highly armed ship with a huge crew), then pilot it to a research station where project Genesis is getting underway. Genesis is a subatomic level machine or something, which “creates life from lifelessness,” but in the wrong hands, well, it could turn into a weapon. Dr. Carol Marcus is the brains behind this operation, and also Kirk’s baby mama from long ago.
At the same time, light years away, Admiral Kirk is touring the recently revamped Enterprise for an inspection; suddenly, they get word of danger in a distant galaxy and Kirk takes command (and goes back to being Captain Kirk; he was an Admiral for only fifteen minutes). I’m pretty sure William Shatner is sporting a curly toupee in this movie, and possibly a male girdle. On to Spock’s sparkling inner chamber, which Kirk visits for Vulcan advice; the copper tiles and layered triangle mirror reminded me of my old orthodontist’s office. Mr. Spock wears a shimmering black cape in this room, which I wish he wore for the rest of the movie. (Leonard Nimoy is my favorite actor in any old Star Trek; he’s the most interesting to watch). A note on the Starfleet trainee uniforms: they’re long white unitards extending down and over the shoes, not unlike feety pajamas. On the chest of these regulation outfits are shiny bulls eyes, leading up to brick red turtlenecks. The senior officers wear something a little more dignified: standard Starfleet red frocks with giant white lobster bibs and tiny 80’s belts.
Somewhere around here Kirk shows Spock and Bones a short film on the Genesis project; the security clearance beforehand requires Kirk to sit through a retina scan. He lets his mouth gape open far too wide; his eyes are two inches from the camera. For this brief moment, William Shatner is caught in the act of not acting. I’m sorry this plot summary is so tedious; this movie is proving challenging to “review.” Anyway, retina scan complete, Kirk takes the Enterprise near the doomed research station, where Khan is waiting close by. Kirk is Khan’s Moby Dick; years of isolation and grief over the death of his wife and comrades have driven this genetically engineered man mad—he spends the rest of the movie chasing Kirk down, throwing away his followers’ lives, then his own. But Kirk is no smarter, and the dialogue is reduced to:
Nameless Khan follower: “They’re requesting communications sir.”
Khan: “Of course! …Let them eat static!”
In response, Kirk rubs his jaw in bewilderment, then allows his ship to be blown up for stupidity’s sake. If anyone was halfway intelligent, either Starfleet personnel or the bad guys, this movie would be over before it started. When the mysterious enemy ship hails the Enterprise over the viewscreen, Captain Kirk stares, pauses, stares some more, finally gasping, “…Khan?” It’s not unlike how he delivers a “…Spock?!”, only his brow is slightly more furrowed. The Enterprise limps away from the dogfight, in which half of the nonspeaking characters were wiped out, and hides out on the far side of the planet below. Uhura, incidently, has only one real line in the whole movie, which she repeats over the communicator ad nauseum until Kirstie Alley tells her to shut up. No fan dance, no sexy dialogue—I felt a little sorry for the lady. And dear Mr. Sulu (George Takei) has a total of three lines in the whole mess, but I bet he still got paid more than his junior officers.
Kirk, Dr. McCoy, and Kirstie Alley beam down to the research station, where they find Khan has come and gone, slaughtering most of the scientists. Only Dr. Marcus and her buff son (also named Dr. Marcus) make it out to the planet below, along with one other bit part actor who’s vaporized three minutes later. Possibly due to budget constraints, Nicholas Meyer is big on killing off extras. The Starfleet party manages to find Carol and son down on the planet, and crappy dialogue ensues. Kirk’s son, played by Merrit Butrick, wears a white polo sweater around his shoulders and a tight blonde perm; such wardrobe choices never let you forget it’s 1982. Around this time, the nameless African-American officer is killed off, and his death passes without comment. Chekoff is badly injured protecting Kirk; instead of treating him, his friends toss him on a pile of storage containers and move on to the next scene.
Khan, who has become a kind of King Lear with frosted bangs, manages to beam up the Genesis device (remember that plot point, hours ago?), so Kirk has to return to the Enterprise (after some choice words with his ex, Dr Carol Marcus—who’s aged much more gracefully) and chase him into a nearby nebula. Whenever a Starfleet ship gets in real trouble, the universe generously provides some bizarre weather pattern to even the odds. As you can probably guess, Kirk uses beefsteak cunning to outmaneuver Khan, who goes down with his ship—but not without setting off the Genesis device. Kirk, sweaty and ruddy cheeked, safely orders the Enterprise away from impending mass explosion; I had forgotten that while in quiet moments he’s befuddled, in action scenes Shatner’s like a barking dog. The explosion of the stupid Genesis device creates life on the barren planet below.
The “victory” is not without cost; Spock sacrifices himself, braving the high-radiation warp chamber to repair the warp core and restore power so the Enterprise can flee. Kirk sends Spock off with a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace, apparently a traditional Vulcan funeral hymn. Spock’s giant dildo of a coffin is shot down to the new planet, where his body spontaneously regenerates in time for Star Trek III. Really, I didn’t think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would take a page and a half to summarize; the synopsis just kept dragging on, not unlike the movie. As for an actual review, I’ll say this: if you like Star Trek at all, watch it (in that case, you’ve probably already watched it). If you enjoy drinking beer and smoking pot, you might also like this movie. Pass on Star Trek II if you missed the 1980’s and you’re not a fan of unitards.