Get over it. Fact is, histrionics and all, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan is the greatest flick by far in the Star Trek series. It can and should be enjoyed in an unironic way.
At least, it was enjoyable that way when it came out in 1982. (The greatest movie summer ever, you may recall.) At that moment, being “the best Star Trek movie ever” was not saying much. A Rapid-Rooter training film has more pace and action than did the original 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Like Laika, it was a barker. It’s amazing a sequel even got made.
But make a sequel they did, and they brought the fun back into the franchise. The Wrath of Khan has laughs, fast action, and a wonderfully over-the-top villain (Ricardo Montalban as Khan, a “genetically superior tyrant”) in the grand Star Trek tradition.
We have director Nicholas Meyer to thank for that, according to Five Things You Didn’t Know About The Wrath of Khan:
“Meyer had never seen an episode of “Star Trek” (later saying that “the chief contribution I brought [to the film] was a healthy disrespect… I tried through irreverence to make them more human and a little less wooden”), but was keen on the idea of tackling the film. He went on to compile a list of highlights from previous drafts, and went on to blast through a new draft in the twelve days needed before work on the effects had to begin, for no pay. Among his most lasting contributions were a more Naval take on Starfleet, inspired by the “Hornblower” novels by C. S. Forester, with redesigned ships and uniforms.”
Meyer also turned Vulcan Lt. Saavik into a woman, played rather brilliantly by Kirstie Alley.
Who can believe now that Kirstie Alley ever played a serious dramatic role in a sci-fi film? I don’t think we’ll be seeing her in Prometheus.
Meyer also did a handy job with killing Mister Spock off at Leonard Nimoy‘s demand (which I knew about) but he didn’t want to crack the door for his return after Nimoy changed his mind during the shoot (which I didn’t know).
And Meyer-the-writer got the aging-of-the-cast thing just right, which later proved to be a lot trickier than anyone would have guessed.
If The Wrath of Khan had been as bad as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, that surely would have been the end of the sequels. I would argue that Khan not only saved the movie franchise, but opened the door for Star Trek: The Next Generation and the other beloved and semi-beloved Trek TV series that followed.
I get that The Wrath of Khan may be unwatchable today, outside of its original moment in time. But it was a big win then. Respect!
The original trailer.
The Blu-Ray trailer.