Rising from the ashes of 1979’s leaden “Star Trek – The Motion Picture,” “Star Trek II” is a speedier, funnier and just plain better action epic involving the robust crew of the Starship Enterprise. Instead of focusing on the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo that damn near derailed the whole franchise in the first film, “Star Trek II” sets its phasers on adventure. As a result, the movie is able to broaden its appeal beyond its core Trekhead audience to include those of us who wouldn’t know a Klingon if it were clinging to their face.
Still, the movie did reward those who had been faithful since the series was on the air. The revenge plot in the film involves a character named Khan who blames Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) for the death of his wife. In a 1967 episode of the show, Khan was banished to a life of exile by Kirk, and, not surprisingly, he’s still pretty miffed about it. So he decides the best way to get back at Kirk is to steal a secret weapon capable of interplanetary destruction.
You don’t need to have a history with the show to get involved with the balance-shifting game of cat-and-mouse between Kirk and Khan. I didn’t. The movie plays just as well if you had no idea there was a TV show to begin with. What makes “Star Trek II” so involving for all parties is its state-of-the-art special effects (which had come a long way in the 13 years since the show went off the air) and in the laid-back interplay between series regulars. Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy), for example, only shared a couple of scenes in “Wrath,” but the laid-back way they interact suggests these two will always be friends first and co-workers second.
The film is also laced with plenty of acerbic humor and wit, but what’s truly great about “Star Trek II” is its dandy villain vigorously brought to life by “Fantasy Island” alum Ricardo Montalban. His Khan looks to have spent his years in exile doing 300 pushups a day on account of his spectacular pectorals, but he’s also quite brainy, tossing around quotes from Herman Melville and delivering his lines as if he were auditioning for the lead in one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.
Director Nicholas Meyer seemed to have a better understanding of what made the “Star Trek” franchise so much fun than did the creators of the abysmal original film. In fact, the makers seemed so sure of the sequel’s projected success that it concluded with an ending that set the stage for 1984’s “Star Trek III.” It’s been 30 years since “Star Trek II,” and it’s no surprise this is the one “Trek” movie that’s managed to live long and prosper.
Rated PG for mild language and violence. 113 minutes, 1982.
Director: Nicholas Meyer. Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy.
★★★ (out of ★★★★)
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is playing at the Lagoon Cinema, 1320 Lagoon Ave. in Minneapolis on November 1 at 7:00 and 9:30. Advance tickets are available by clicking here.