Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a 1982 American science fiction film directed by Nicholas Meyer and based on the television series Star Trek.
It is the second film in the Star Trek film series, and is a sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
The plot features Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the starship USS Enterprise facing off against the genetically engineered tyrant Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán), a character who first appeared in the 1967 Star Trek episode “Space Seed“.
When Khan escapes from a 15-year exile to exact revenge on Kirk, the crew of the Enterprise must stop him from acquiring a powerful terraforming device named Genesis.
In the year 2285, Admiral James T. Kirk oversees a simulator session of Captain Spock’s trainees. In the simulation, Lieutenant Saavik commands the starship USS Enterprise on a rescue mission to save the crew of the damaged ship Kobayashi Maru, but is attacked by Klingon cruisers and critically damaged. The simulation is a no-win scenario designed to test the character of Starfleet officers. Later, Dr. McCoy joins Kirk on his birthday; seeing Kirk in low spirits, the doctor advises Kirk to get a new command and not grow old behind a desk.
Meanwhile, the starship Reliant is on a mission to search for a lifeless planet to test the Genesis Device, a technology designed to reorganise dead matter into habitable worlds. Reliant officers Commander Pavel Chekov and Captain Clark Terrell beam down to evaluate a planet they believe to be Ceti Alpha VI; once there, they are captured by the genetically engineered tyrant Khan Noonien Singh.
Fifteen years prior (see “Space Seed”), Enterprise discovered Khan’s ship adrift in space; Kirk exiled Khan and his fellow supermen to Ceti Alpha V after they attempted to take over his ship. After they were marooned, Ceti Alpha VI exploded, devastating Ceti Alpha V. Khan blames Kirk for the death of his wife and plans revenge.
He implants Chekov and Terrell with indigenous eel larvae that render them susceptible to mind control, and uses them to capture Reliant.
Learning of the Genesis Device, Khan attacks space station Regula I where the device is being developed by Kirk’s former lover, Dr. Carol Marcus, and their son, David.
Kirk assumes command of Enterprise after the ship, deployed on a training cruise, receives a distress call from Regula I. En route, Enterprise is ambushed and crippled by Reliant.
Khan offers to spare Kirk’s crew if they relinquish all material related to Genesis; Kirk instead stalls for time and remotely lowers Reliant’s shields, enabling a counter-attack. Khan is forced to retreat and effect repairs, while Enterprise limps to Regula I. Kirk, McCoy, and Saavik beam to the station and find Terrell and Chekov alive, along with the slaughtered members of Marcus’s team.
They soon find Carol and David hiding Genesis deep inside the nearby planetoid. Khan, having used Terrell and Chekov as spies, orders them to kill Kirk; Terrell resists the eel’s influence and kills himself, while Chekov collapses as the eel leaves his body.
Khan transports Genesis aboard the Reliant, intending to maroon Kirk on the lifeless planetoid, but is tricked by Kirk and Spock’s coded arrangements for a rendezvous. Kirk directs Enterprise into the nearby Mutara Nebula; conditions inside the nebula render shields useless and compromise targeting systems, making Enterprise and Reliant evenly matched.
Spock notes that Khan’s tactics indicate inexperience in three-dimensional combat, which Kirk exploits to disable Reliant.
Mortally wounded, Khan activates Genesis, which will reorganise all matter in the nebula, including Enterprise.
Though Kirk’s crew detects the activation and attempts to move out of range, they will not be able to escape the nebula in time without the ship’s inoperable warp drive.
Spock goes to restore warp power in the engine room, which is flooded with radiation. When McCoy tries to prevent Spock’s entry, Spock incapacitates him with a Vulcan nerve pinch and performs a mind meld, telling him to “remember”.
Spock repairs the warp drive, and Enterprise escapes the explosion, which forms a new planet.
Before dying of radiation poisoning, Spock urges Kirk not to grieve, as his decision to sacrifice himself to save the ship’s crew was a logical one.
A space burial is held and Spock’s coffin is shot into orbit around the new planet. The crew leaves to pick up Reliant’s marooned crew from Ceti Alpha V; Spock’s coffin is shown having soft-landed on the surface of the Genesis planet.
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- After the lackluster critical response to the first film, series creator Gene Roddenberry was forced out of the sequel’s production.
- Executive producer Harve Bennett wrote the film’s original outline, which Jack B. Sowards developed into a full script.
- Meyer completed its final script in twelve days, without accepting a writing credit.
- Meyer’s approach evoked the swashbuckling atmosphere of the original series, a theme reinforced by James Horner’s musical score.
- Leonard Nimoy had not intended to have a role in the sequel, but was enticed back on the promise that his character would be given a dramatic death scene.
- Negative test audience reaction to Spock’s death led to significant revisions of the ending over Meyer’s objections.
- The production team used various cost-cutting techniques to keep within budget, including utilising miniature models from past projects and reusing sets, effects footage, and costumes from the first film.
- Among the film’s technical achievements is being the first feature film to contain a sequence created entirely with computer graphics.
- The Wrath of Khan was released in North America on June 4, 1982 by Paramount Pictures.
- It was a box office success, earning US$97 million (equivalent to about $257M in 2019) worldwide and setting a world record for its first-day box office gross.
- Critical reaction to the film was positive; reviewers highlighted Khan’s character, the film’s pacing, and the character interactions as strong elements.
- Negative reactions focused on weak special effects and some of the acting.
- The Wrath of Khan is considered by many to be the best film in the Star Trek series, and is often credited with renewing substantial interest in the franchise.
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Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Nicholas Meyer.
- Producer(s): Robert Sallin.
- Writer(s): Jack B. Sowards and Nicholas Meyer (uncredited).
- Music: James Horner.
- Cinematography: Gayne Rescher.
- Editor(s): William Paul Dornisch.
- Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures.
- Release Date: 04 June 1982.
- Running Time: 113 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.