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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982)

I think I got fooled.

The first trailer for the new “Star Trek” movie (opening May 17) contained a flash of iconic footage that made me think it was going to be somehow linked to this movie.  So I looked “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” up and watched it again to refamiliarize myself with the storyline, and think about how JJ Abrams may be referencing it or playing off of it in the upcoming “Into Darkness.”

But now, a new trailer is out, and there’s not a whiff of reference to Khan. So maybe it was all bait-and-switch, which is kind of annoying, but hey, whatever.

If memory serves, this is the best of the old “Star Trek” movies, though I say that with so many disclaimers as to make it almost meaningless.  First, I haven’t seen all the old Star Trek movies.  I stopped watching when they no longer had roman numerals in the title.  Second, my memory of the ones I’ve seen is pretty fuzzy.  I remember the first one being pretty hokey (there was a bald woman on the bridge of the Enterprise?) and the fourth one being terrible cheesy (save the whales!) and the other ones just being bad, bad, bad.  I’m not sure about the third one though – the one where Spock is a kid.  It might be good.   I don’t remember.

Clearly, I’m not a very good Star Trek nerd.  But here’s what I can say about “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”:  it’s decent, but not as good as I remembered.   Khan is still probably the best bad guy in the Star Trek canon, and I love Ricardo Montahlban’s scenery-chewing performance, but I wish there was more of it. I don’t really see the point in introducing Kirk’s son. Merritt Buttrick’s performance as David is one-dimensional and underwhelming, and the subplot feels like a distraction from Khan.  (Apparently, the producers felt the same way; David is killed off in the next film, that I remember.) And the Genesis project is one of the most interesting ideas in “Star Trek” (much more interesting than humpback whales saving the planet) but it feels underused here.

But the final scenes are movie magic.  The final showdown between Kirk and Khan is smart and tense.  The film has some wry fun with Kirk and Spock’s relationship early on, which sets up Spock’s death scene perfectly.  This could have been overdone and maudlin (and there is a terrible moment at the funeral) but for the most part it is incredibly moving.  One of the best death scenes of a major character in cinema, and still (I think, probably) the best of the old “Star Trek” films.



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