Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

star trek ii the wrath of khan


The Scoop: 1982 PG, directed by Nicholas Meyer and starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Ricardo Montalban.

Tagline: At the end of the universe lies the beginning of vengeance.

Summary Capsule: Kirk and crew battle Khan and his genetically-engineered chest of steel!

Kyle’s rating: Khaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!

Kyle’s review: It’s so very rare for something in life to live up to that cliché where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That is, for all the blood, sweat and tears that are poured into an enterprise, the end result is what was planned and more. Because of the love, respect and care that was put into it along the way that incredible creation transcends its original imagining and will truly live forever through the awe of all that contemplate it. I can think of only a few examples of this maxim: the United States of America, a couple of Beatles albums (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road, of course), peanut butter, and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.

It’s an elite and elusive club, and I’m here to suggest a film to join their ranks. That film, of course, is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Am I mad for thinking Wrath of Khan deserves near-perfection status? Am I mad for getting into a serious relationship with a nice smart girl who looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar and then breaking up with her and moving 1500 miles away due to my fear of commitment? Am I mad for not being afraid to eat any of my french fries that fall on the floor? The answer is yes: I am mad. But the answer is also yes: Wrath of Khan may have some faults, but it is one of the best sci-fi epics ever created. Ever!

In many unverifiable and unaccountable ways, Star Trek II changed the very fabric of our universe and will someday prove to be the catalyst that started us on the path to a time of peace and enlightenment. Isn’t it strange how it is little things that end up making the biggest difference in life? Star Trek II, wind power, vegetarian burgers, Sting… they don’t always get the appreciation they deserve, but ultimately they will save us all! Believe it!

Admiral James T. Kirk (the wonderful, wonderful William Shatner) is in a funk. It’s his birthday, and he’s feeling old. It’s his birthday, and his ship (the Enterprise!) is no longer under his command, though it is in the hands of his capable best friend Captain Spock (very wonderful Leonard Nimoy). It’s his birthday, yet for all the slave girls and lovely women Kirk has loved in his life that late night knock at his door is just his other best friend, Dr. McCoy (very wonderful DeForest Kelley), bringing him a birthday present. For a galactic hero whose legendary life seems to be winding down, what’s left to fill his days? Starfleet lectures and training exercises? Could be. But then Kirk’s inspection trip of the Enterprise coincides with the return of genetic superman and Kirk-hater Khan (the incredible Ricardo Montalban), and just like that Kirk is back in command and ready to take on anything that stands in his way. But to stop Khan from getting his hands on a new weapon of unparalleled destruction, Kirk is going to have to deal with an old love and a certain adult-sized surprise. This couldn’t have been what Kirk wished for when he blew out his birthday candles, could it?

Wrath of Khan works because the story is strong and the action is fabulous. Wrath of Khan excels because the cast is incredible and help turn what could have been a cheesy sci-fi flick into a memorable story that has many more facets than you might think. The sci-fi stuff is only part of the mix; the strength really lies in the unbridled wrath ultimate screen-villain Khan spews out with every line, and in the conflicting emotions Shatner weaves into every nuance of his performance as Kirk.

This is truly the Kirk and Khan show, and although the two never meet in final conflict face-to-face it helps raise the tension level that they remain just out of reach of each other, left to sneer and snipe at one another across viewscreens and over communicators. The battle of these two titans is the centerpiece but joy is found elsewhere, like in the strong balanced relationship of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Their dialogue about Genesis serves as the template for all past and future interactions between the trio and allows the viewer to grasp all sides of the ethical issue they’re discussing. The trials and tragedies Kirk has to face here paint him as a flawed but endearing hero, making it so much more uplifting and inspiring when he manages to pull a victory out of the chaos.

Kirk has learned by the end of the movie how sometimes it takes a mix of victory and defeat, gain and loss, to really illustrate how fleeting life is and wonderful it is just to have the time we have. It’s an important message, and one to remember when you’re feeling low. Everyone, from the unlucky and lonely to the blessed and lucky, gets the blues and feels old and useless sometimes. That’s just a part of life. Try to find your path and stick with it in life, and if you follow it diligently after every dark night you’ll find the dawn of a brand new day. Good luck in all your travels, Captain Kirk!

Justin’s rating: Would it help if Spock got out and pushed?

Justin’s review: As a young, impressionable Star Trek fan, each episode, each movie came as a blinding revelation only second in import to the Bible (and you never saw photon torpedoes in the book of Genesis, did ya?). We came for the sci-fi and action, yes, but we also soaked up the humanistic ramblings that Roddenberry and crew sent our way. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one”… huh? Communism, I say! Don’t tell me it’s just a coinkydink that the Starfleet uniforms are RED?

Speaking of Starfleet, here’s a conundrum of an organization. They’re supposed to be three things in one: the military, scientist explorers, and diplomats. But as the military, they really, really stink. No body armor/personal shields. They send in their head officers for dangerous field work. A couple measly phaser hits, and something on the bridge blows up. I just have never gotten the impression from Starfleet that they could stand toe-to-toe with any serious military force, even the Girl Scouts (and those oh-so-yummy cookies). As science people, well, it’s just an exercise in pretty computer graphics and made-up technical jargon. About the only thing Starfleet does well is diplomacy, because Kirk and Picard and whoever else just LOOOOVE to hear themselves talk. You need to be able to talk well, since most homicidal supercomputers have to be reasoned out of their destiny.

Star Trek II is a killer film for many reasons. I like that they acknowledge that Kirk and company are growing old (after only one movie and 73 episodes), and how Kirk is struggling with the decision to give up his command. As Kyle mentioned, I think it’s brilliant that the two main enemies never truly meet in person — it lends an air to the epic pirate battle on high seas (and check out Kirk’s apartment for more references to the old days of sailing). Plus, they just up and kill off one of the most popular characters in sci-fi history… AND we get Scotty playing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. What is there not to like?

I do adore this film, I think it’s one of the best that Star Trek has ever produced, and this is coming from a guy who doesn’t like to openly admit his past Trekkie days. But the more grown-up part of me can’t help but nitpick this movie to death, because there are plot holes that you could pilot the Death Star through (and how did the Death Star move, exactly? Where were the engines? Wouldn’t it have been cool to see it go into light speed?).

Once again, the Enterprise is the only ship in the vicinity, despite the fact that they’re fairly near Earth and the HQ of Starfleet. It always irks me that Chekov and Turrell don’t fight back when captured, and how the Reliant just sits there like a dumb goose and doesn’t send down a security squad to investigate (the line, “Let’s give them more time” just cracks me up in its stupidity). The Genesis Device doesn’t go off on a planet or even really near one, yet it still manages to make a new world. Wouldn’t they have radiation suits in the future? Khan doesn’t think to check the transporter room on the space station? I’m just saying, this is a great movie, but it’s not infallible by any stretch of the imagination.

So now I wait for my mailbox to fill with letters from irate Trekkies who have technical manuals to explain these queries. It’s not worth your time, fellas, I’ve been there, done that, gotten the ripped physique of Khan, and blown my ship to smithereens.

Rich’s rating: This is THE Star Trek film.

Rich’s review: Despite having seen the odd episode or two of Star Trek, I was never really happy characterising myself as a ‘Trekkie’ or ‘Trekker’ or whatever the appropriate term is for the ST fan’s these days. I mean, I’ve not seen every episode of the original series, or TNG, and the spin-offs from those which have come and gone I have sampled and left behind as the mood took me. I’m not saying these were bad shows, because when it comes to bite-sized sci-fi, Trek has it’s share of hits as well as misses, and no show develops the kind of rabid fanbase Trek has inherited without some merit. But in the end, Trek has never been something I’ve taken time out of my busy schedule of sleeping and peeling dead skin off my feet to make an effort to watch — instead I am content to watch the odd episode when channel surfing and thats about it.

But despite all that, and because I’m a big sci-fi fan at heart, I have seen all the Trek films — at least the ones which feature the original series cast anyway. Yes, I’ve even seen the celluloid nightmare that is Star Trek 5. And while the newer films may have broken the old adage that it’s only the even-numbered Star Trek films that are good, for the first six that axiom holds absolutely true — and the very first of those ‘good’ films may well be the very best of them all.

I can only imagine what was going through the minds of the screen-writers when they say down to write ST2. By then Trek already had a well-established legacy and a cadre of fans for whom psychiatric help may have been necessary. Their first at-bat with a major Trek motion picture had fallen a little flat, to say the least. So sat there, with a white piece of paper and a truckload of pressure on them to produce a movie that people would actually like, those writers must have looked at each other and said “Well, what are we going to do here? What exactly is it that people WANT?”.

The answer of course, came in a flash of inspiration. A lingering intern at the studio delivering coffee said “Dudes, what people want is cool space battles, you crazy cats” (because thats how people talked back then). And cool space battles there were.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that the story above is a complete work of fiction invented by me as a way of casually mentioning that ST2 features cool space battles (P.S. – it is), but the fact of the matter is that in every way imaginable Wrath of Khan showed that instead of producing just feature-length episodes and expecting the public to buy them as films, the Trek franchise could deliver a geniune film, complete with explosions and drama and tension without having to distance itself from its roots, something I think the newer films have struggled to do.

Of course, many films are won and lost on the strength of their nemesi.. nemesises… bad guys, and in the case of Wrath you’re not going to find a much better villain than the dastardly Khan Noonian Soong, who gave me nightmares as a kid by putting worms in peoples ears (which is gross), spouts sinister, campy, and shouty dialogue with equal fervour, isn’t above quoting Moby Dick when he really needs a good speech, and has a great way of whispering “Buried Alive” in a way that sends shivers down your spine. Given that his name is in the title, Khan’s performance in this film is an absolute centrepiece and Ricardo Montleban brings him to life as a perfect counterpoint for aging-and-feeling-it-but-still-basically-unbeatable-in-every-way James T Kirk, and actually gives us reason to believe that Kirk just might not walk away from his battle with Khan smelling of roses the way he usually does.

And that, more than anything, I think is the reason absolutely everyone I know, when asked which Trek movie is the best, will pick Wrath of Khan. Because everything in Trek 2, from Kirk’s growing sense of uselessness to his struggle with Khan, and the shock of him actually getting his tail kicked a time or two suddenly work to transform him from the pulp hero captain of Star Trek who never lost into a real, fallible person who we want to win precisely because we’re not sure he’s going to this time.

Of course, the chemistry between the central characters in the Trek world, Bones, Spock and Kirk is a snappy as ever. Their relationship as friends is both written and performed perfectly, making us geniunely feel the warmth between them which by all accounts comes from a geniune friendship between the actors themselves. It’s an utterly believable relationship in a totally fictional world and serves as a great grounding tool to stop everyone scoffing and laughing at the variety of ludicrious elements that come with every major sci-fi setting.

And, of course, there’s space battles. In fact, one of the all time greats. No zooming around blowing stuff up, but instead a carefully paced hunt-through-the-darkness that borrows more from submarine movies than sci-fi, with each side desperate to find the other before they themselves are found. It builds a kind of tension that an extra screaming “Shields down to 24% captain” can’t really match, and its something never since repeated really in any other sci-fi film I can recall at 11:30pm on a Monday evening.

So there you have it — in a world overpowered by Star Wars Sith-mania, it’s interesting to step back from the flashy effects and the mass CGI battles and hark back to a time when sci-fi films could run on shoestring effects and still deliver one of the great examples of the genre. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…


“Thank you, Lord, for this vengeance I am about to receive.”


  • The main viewer display during the opening sequence indicates that the Kobayashi Maru’s captain is Kojiro Vance and that the ship is registered out of the planet Amber (Tau Ceti IV).
  • Although Chekov was not yet part of the crew in the 1967 Star Trek episode (“Space Seed”) where the Enterprise first encounters Khan, Khan recognizes Chekov in this film when they first meet on Ceti Alpha V.
  • Due to budget limitations, sets and props were re-used wherever possible. Space Station Regula 1 was the space station from Star Trek: The Motion Picture… turned upside-down.
  • The original title was to be “The Vengeance of Khan”, but this was changed because the second sequel to Star Wars (then titled “Revenge of the Jedi”) was to be released near the same time. In the end both movie tiles were changed.
  • The sets of Reliant were actually the Enterprise with different lighting, camera angles, and different seat covers.
  • All of Khan’s men were Chippendale dancers at the time.
  • There are several books in the container that shelters Khan’s followers on Ceti Alpha VI. Two of the titles are “Moby Dick” and “King Lear”, and a lot of Khan’s lines are directly taken from those books. In particular, the final monologue of Khan is identical to the last words of Captain Ahab from Melville’s book.
  • When Spock and Savik speak to each other in Vulcan, the actors actually spoke in English, and then sound people created the Vulcan words to match the movements of the actors’ mouths.
  • Why does Scotty take his nephew to the bridge instead of straight to the sickbay?
  • If you have cable and Wrath of Khan happens to be on TBS or something, try to catch it for a few extra scenes deleted from the theatrical version!
  • This film was originally released as Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan without the “II” in the title.
  • Producer Harve Bennett viewed all the original Star Trek episodes and chose 1967’s “Space Seed” as the best candidate for a sequel.
  • During Kobayashi Maru test, there is a sign that says “No Smoking At Any Time On Bridge.” This sign was removed because Gene Roddenberry hoped that smoking would not exist on Star Trek.” Ironically with that sign, the Bridge terminals were smoking when they were hit with the simulated Klingon torpedo. And in Star Trek 5, St. John Talbot, the Federation Representative to Nimbus 3, is smoking what looks like a cigarette. [thanks Robert H!]

Groovy Quotes

Lt. Saavik: Any suggestions, Admiral?
Kirk: Prayer, Mr. Saavik. The Klingons don’t take prisoners.

Kirk: Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor.

Spock: As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy, than to create.

Dr. David Marcus: Scientists have always been pawns of the military!

Spock: If I may be so bold, it was a mistake for you to accept promotion. Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny; anything else is a waste of material.
Kirk: I would not presume to debate you.
Spock: That is wise. Were I to invoke logic, however, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
Kirk: Or the one.
Spock: You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.

Spock: Jim, be careful.
Dr. McCoy: *We* will.

McCoy: Damn it Jim, what the hell is the matter with you? Other people have birthdays, why are we treating yours like a funeral?

Khan: Kirk! You’re still alive, old friend!
Kirk: Still, “old friend!” You’ve managed to kill everyone else but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target.

Khan: I’ve done far worse than kill you, Admiral. I’ve hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her: marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet, buried alive. Buried alive.

Kirk: [taunting Khan] Khan, I’m laughing at the superior intellect.

Spock: The Kobayashi Maru scenario frequently wreaks havoc on students and equipment. As I recall you took the test three times yourself. Your final solution was, shall we say, unique?
Kirk: It had the virtue of never having been tried.

Kirk: I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.

Saavik: You lied.
Spock: I exaggerated.

Khan: Ah Kirk, my old friend. Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold in space.

Saavik: Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical.
Kirk: We learn by doing.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  • Star Trek: First Contact
  • Free Enterprise


  1. •Although Chekov was not yet part of the crew in the 1967 Star Trek episode (“Space Seed”) where the Enterprise first encounters Khan, Khan recognizes Chekov in this film when they first meet on Ceti Alpha V.

    One possibility I’ve heard suggested is that Chekov was part of the Enterprise crew, but was assigned to something like shovelling coal into the furnace rather than the bridge.

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