Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Star Trek had enough of a fan base that, given the success of Star Wars, it was decided that it was worth it to take a chance on a full-length movie. This resulted in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which expanded an episode that was originally meant for a new unproduced television show, Star Trek: Phase II, and which itself borrowed from an Original Series episode called The Changeling. The movie cost 46 million dollars, featured dazzling special effects, got the main crew back together again and pondered such questions as what sentience truly is and what our place in the universe should be.
It was also overlong and too reliant on looking pretty. The Enterprise did not look anything like the original, much of the dynamic between the characters was gone and it seemed it wanted to be 2001: A Space Odyssey rather than Star Trek. It may have been a solid science fiction film, but it was far from what fans wanted, and the profits were far from what the studio wanted.
Still, it made enough to warrant a sequel, despite the fact that both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy thought the first film was bad enough to kill the series. Nimoy had no intention of reprising Spock again, and even supporting actors like George Takei were questioning whether it was worth it. Ultimately Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series, was largely shut out of the creative process, and someone more budget conscious was put in charge. However, budget conscious didn't mean they wanted to do the sequel on a shoestring. Director Nicholas Meyer was brought in, he and executive producer and cowriter Harve Bennett got to work on watching the episodes of the show and, ultimately, the decision was made to make a sequel to one of the more popular episodes, The Space Seed.
In The Space Seed, the Enterprise encounters a ship called the Botany Bay and discovers cryogenically frozen humans on board. It turns out that the ship was launched from Earth in 1996 after the conclusion of the Eugenics Wars, and that the inhabitants were genetically engineered humans that had used their superior strength and intellect to conquer large swaths of the globe. Their leader, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), had been dictator of most of Asia. Khan attempts to hijack the Enterprise, but Captain Kirk (Shatner) agrees to leave him and his followers, as well as the ship's historian who has fallen in love with Khan, on the planet Tau Ceti V with supplies to start their own colony.
15 years later the Reliant is helping to search for an uninhabited planet in which to test a device called Genesis. They find what they think is Tau Ceti VI and believe it may make a good fit, but there are life form readings. When Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) and Commander Chekov (Walter Koenig) beam down to find out why, they discover the remains of Khan's party. It turns out that Tau Ceti VI exploded six months after they were left, devastating Tau Ceti V. Between the environmental destruction and hostile native life most of the colonists are dead, and Khan sees the Reliant as both an opportunity to escape as well as get revenge on Kirk.
Genesis, it turns out, is a device that can make even dead planets habitable within a period of days rather than current terraforming methods which take decades. Developed by Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), a former lover of Kirk's, it gives Khan both a means of survival and a weapon against the Federation. With both the Enterprise and the Reliant damaged from their initial encounter, they both begin a desperate game of survival against one another.
The budget for The Wrath of Khan was a mere 11 million dollars, but it is hard to tell. A number of shots were reused from The Motion Picture, and what else was done was a testament to how technology was improving enough to make things look more realistic without breaking the bank. A good chunk went to getting Ricardo Montalban to reprise his role as Khan since he was still playing the character of Mr. Rourke on the long-running television series Fantasy Island. He admits it took him awhile to get back into the role, but it is good that he did, since it is hard to see anyone else inhabiting it - especially a pasty Englishman. His is one of those villain roles that later ones are judged against. We also get a new character, Lieutenant Saavik, played by Kirsty Alley. She's one of the cadets that Spock is training, and she is set up as a new main character, although she pretty much disappears after this movie. She's interesting, but confusing, as the decision to explain that she is part Romulan was cut from the final version of the film - a fact that would have explained why she shows un-Vulcan like emotions at times.
The best thing about Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is that, unlike the first film, this feels like Star Trek. Nicholas Meyer was trying to recapture the spirit of the original series, so gone are the silly onesies. Instead, we get uniforms that look nothing like the Original Series, but are actually better, as they look like something a future naval force may wear. The ship feels more fully staffed than it did on the show, but the important thing is that the three main characters - Kirk, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Bones (DeForrest Kelly) - are all working off each other again. It is also a plot that, even if it wasn't a sequel to an episode, feels like it would comfortably have fit into the the Enterprise's original weekly adventures.
For the second movie in the series, quite a lot happens in just less than two hours. It gets us caring about the characters again, even those where they still seem like glorified cameos, just in time to give us a surprise revelation regarding Kirk as well as a shocking turn of events for one of the main characters. In fact, it sets up a good portion of the story for the next two movies, where about the only thing the first movie did was finally give us decent looking Klingons. There are a few continuity problems, but they can be forgiven due to the fact Meyer was able to reign in some of Shatner's worse tendencies at overacting and give audiences and fans the true reunion film they should have received the first time around.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Time: 113 minutes
Starring: William Shatner, DeForrest Kelly, Leonard Nimoy, Kirsty Alley, Ricardo Montalban, Bibi Besch
Director: Nicholas Meyer