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Film Review: Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan

Updated on December 21, 2016
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Review written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 1982, Nicholas Meyer released Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, based on the 1966 television series Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry, as the second film in the franchise. Starring William Shatner, Ricardo Montalban, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig and Kirstie Allie, the film grossed $97 million at the box office.


During the original series, Khan Noonien Singh is exiled and 15 years later, he escapes seeking revenge against Kirk. Meanwhile Kirk is having a midlife crisis and is faced with a son he didn’t know he had.


Considered the best entry in the series Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is certainly a great film, especially considering how the film treats its characters. Take Kirk. Throughout the film, he is constantly coming to grips with his own mortality, shown in how he once again accepted the promotion to admiral because of his midlife crisis and actually has to be convinced by Bones and Spock to demote himself. It’s only after he realizes that the experiences he’s gained throughout his life is something that’s needed to defeat Khan instead of hiding behind rules and regulations. There’s also his son that he never knew he had showing up.

Throughout the film, there are numerous references to Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. The first is shown as Kirk is going through that midlife existential crisis when Spock quotes the opening lines. As the film continues, the best of times becomes the worst of times and Kirk embraces his experiences and life as living is ultimately comprised of both the best and worst times.

However, the references to A Tale of Two Cities don’t simply end at Kirk’s crisis, continuing on with Spock’s sacrifice. It not only solves Kirk’s crisis and gives him a fresh look on life, but it solves Spock’s belief that he wasted his life, just as Carton in the novel believes. Neither of them have lived wasted lives, but the two face death for who they believe to be the better man. In Spock’s case, he sacrifices a life he believes to be worthless not just for a man he deems to be better, but an entire crew. As Kirk notes by quoting the novel’s closing lines at the end of the film, Spock had done a far, far better thing than he has ever done.

There’s also Khan, who is intertwined with references to Moby Dick. The character has not only read the book, but quotes it and sees himself in Captain Ahab. Yet, where Khan sees Ahab fail miserably in his quest for the whale, he believes himself better than the captain, dismissing any advice to take Genesis somewhere else and create a new empire, and burns for revenge against Kirk. Like Ahab, Khan becomes so obsessed with his quest that it blinds him and every gain against Kirk made becomes overturned and even a lowly cadet saw his inevitable fall when he couldn’t. His quoting of Ahab could also show that he knew the consequences, but didn’t care because he was so hell bent and pushed himself anyway.

There’s also the connection to him playing two dimensional chess when Kirk was seen playing three dimensional chess multiple times during the series. Built on Spock noticing that Khan has trouble thinking in three dimensions, causing him to treat space like an ocean rather than a three dimensional plane where movement could be in any direction. It's in part of Kahn's failure to consider that he can do more than simply move forward and backward that Kirk is ultimately able to best him.

On the other hand, Khan’s speech about doing more than killing Kirk and making him suffer was on point. As stated above, Spock has to sacrifice himself and Kirk may not be dead, but he suffers by losing a good friend.

5 stars for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.

Awards won

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Awards

  • Best Actor (William Shatner)
  • Best Director

Nominated for

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Awards

  • Best DVD Classic Film Release
  • Best Science Fiction Film
  • Best Supporting Actor (Walter Koenig)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Kirstie Alley)
  • Best Writing
  • Best Costumes
  • Best Make-Up

Hugo Awards

  • Best Dramatic Presentation

International Film Music Critics Awards

  • Best New Release/Re-Release of an Existing Score


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