Some people measure the success of a Star Trek film by how memorable the villain is (which doesn’t work for The Voyage Home, incidentally), but The Wrath of Khan is easily the best on that scale. Ricardo Montalban’s fusion of menace and intelligence is the highlight of the film, and not even Benedict Cumberbatch could quite match his vengeful charisma.
Revenge is one of the best motivators for a villain, but it’s difficult to pull off effectively. The setup that fuels the villain’s rage is typically either rushed through or else merely implied, but Star Trek’s status as a television series put its films in a unique position to revisit old adversaries already long-established. Like Kirk, audiences hadn’t seen Khan for fifteen years, and it was easy to imagine how his hatred for his forsaker must have grown over the years, especially with the death of his wife (I assume, Lieutenant McGivers from “Space Seed”). Though he and Kirk never actually meet face to face, their tense exchanges, calling each other “my old friend,” far surpass any other hero/villain relationship from the franchise.
Of course, the other game-changer that Wrath of Khan threw at audiences (other than the revelation of Kirk’s son) was the death of a main cast member, and not just any member, but Mr. Spock himself. Leonard Nimoy actually wanted his character to die, and though it seemed like it could have been the end of Star Trek, the filmmakers set up little clues that a sequel was certainly feasible. Luckily, the promise of the director’s chair lured Nimoy back to his pointy-eared persona, and so far he’s the only original cast member to still be playing his alter ego by appearing in J. J. Abrams’s reboot. (By the way, I had totally forgotten that the 2009 Star Trek’s inclusion of the Kobayashi Maru test and Kirk’s cheating was drawn straight from Wrath of Khan; now that’s how to please your fan base.)
True, the special effects aren’t all that impressive, even with a groundbreaking CGI sequence detailing the Genesis effect, but The Wrath of Khan was such a huge improvement over the dreadfully plodding first film that it effectively re-energized the entire Star Trek empire. If not for this film, there probably would have been no more films, no Next Generation, no Deep Space Nine, no Voyager! For Trek fans everywhere, Khan’s rancor served as a reminder of just how entertaining and indelible Star Trek could be.Best line (which is echoed in his death scene): (Spock) “In any case, were I to invoke logic, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” (Kirk) “Or the one.” (Spock) “You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.” Rank: 55 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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