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Stardate 2013 - The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Kirk comes up against an old foe.

Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Ricardo Montalban, Kirstie Alley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield

On Space Station Regula I, the Genesis Device is being developed, a device capable of making planets with hostile environments habitable. Used wrongly, it can also destroy planets. While exploring a planet on which to test the device, Chekhov (Koenig) is captured by Khan (Montalban), a genetically enhanced villain who Kirk (Shatner) had exiled on a remote planet fifteen years earlier, (as seen in the original series episode 'Space Seed'). Khan is obsessed with getting even with Kirk and, having gained control of Chekhov's mind, uses him to lure Kirk to Regula I. When the Enterprise is ambushed by Khan, a battle of wits begins between Kirk and his old nemesis.
Though it was far from a commercial flop, the negative critical and public reaction to 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' had Paramount worried about the prospects of a sequel. The decision was taken to opt for a more action oriented approach, as opposed to the philosophical feel of the first movie. Gene Roddenberry was removed from the production team in a move which, though cruel, probably needed to be taken. Sometimes it takes a neutral eye to revitalize a franchise and the director hired, Nicholas Meyer, had never even seen an episode of the TV show before landing the job.
Meyer was a fan of C.S Forester's 'Hornblower' series of seafaring novels and borrowed this theme for his script. Essentially, 'Wrath of Khan' is a chess game played between the commanders of two starships; Kirk's Enterprise and Khan's hijacked Reliant. The rivalry between the two is one of the most memorable in science fiction cinema but they never actually meet face to face. Shatner wanted the film to end with a punch-up between the two men but, thankfully, the director ignored him. Meyer's vision of Kirk played up the fact that Shatner was aging and turned the character into a wise old owl, the sort of role Spencer Tracy would have played.
Though Montalban is a formidable presence here, this is well and truly Shatner's movie. He's often mocked, (and he's often the first to mock himself), but what he may lack in technical acting chops, Shatner makes up for in raw charisma. By the film's end, it's a wonder the bridge of the Enterprise is still intact, such is the level of scenery-chewing on display. The famous "Khaaaaaannnnnnnn!!!!!!!!!!" roar has gone down in movie history and is probably Shatner's most famous few seconds of screen time. Of course, the strength of 'Star Trek' lay in the friendship between Kirk, McCoy (Kelley) and Spock (Nimoy), and that relationship is well handled here, with some great barbs traded between the emotional McCoy and the logical Spock.
Meyer's only previous directorial outing was the Jack the Ripper time travel movie 'Time after Time'. His filmography post 'Wrath of Khan' is sparse, a shame as he shows here he really knows how to put a film together. Most of the film takes place on the bridges of two starships but Meyer manages to inject an energy into the whole affair without having to resort to any flashy or distracting tricks. Particularly clever is the montage of lights turning on as the Enterprise leaves it's docking station. Meyer would return to the director's chair for 1991's 'The Undiscovered Country' but that movie aside his CV is pretty barren. Listening to his DVD commentaries gives you the impression of a very opinionated and uncompromising individual and this may be the reason his stock didn't rise in Hollywood. It's a shame as Hollywood could use a film-maker of Meyer's talent.
Though Jerry Goldsmith had written a stunning score for the first film, he was replaced by the young James Horner for the sequel. Horner's score is very different, employing a more nautical theme at Meyer's request, but it's just as good as Goldsmith's.
'Wrath of Khan' is one of those rare films that pleases hardcore fans and mainstream audiences equally. Should you wish to introduce a newcomer to 'Star Trek', this is arguably the best place to start. After seeing this gripping tale, they'll be thirsty for more.
9/10