Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Review: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
They took notes. Boy did they ever.
In some miracle flashbang of neuron fire, the powers that be behind Star Trek decide to try a different approach: instead of bringing the Enterprise crew back for yet more adventures, let's address the fact that their adventuring days are behind them and that their past mistakes might come back to haunt them. Not "let's do the show, but bigger," but "where would our characters be now?" What if Star Trek aged? And let's utilize that 'Space Seed' episode for the dangling participle of a villain we never killed, which is probably a better choice than using 'The Gamesters of Triskellion.' The result?
We are given -- nay, gifted -- a film that is one part treatise on old age, one part awesome fuckin space battle between two captains who have nothing left to offer one another but hardcore murder. It's a great feeling, finally getting what you ask for.
While investigating terraforming possibilities on what turns out to be the wrong damn planet, Terrell and Chekov run afoul of a very pissed off Khan (Chekov wasn't even in 'Space Seed', this is a bullshit thing) who uses mind control bugs to fool a bunch of people into giving him way too many resources for his insanity and thus begins the dangerous precedent of a film entirely about getting revenge on the Enterprise's captain, but fuckit! Suspenseful ass shit occurs in space and in a nebula and... well, that's it. But still!
During their conflict, the screenplay elegantly expands and contracts before us like a wave, keeping our minds busy between the action sequences. Khan is the macrotheme of a past mistake, forgotten and never checked up on, mirrored in the microtheme of Kirk's son. During the battle, many more bodies are added to the trail behind Kirk's forward march, including a relative of Scotty's (micro) and a MAJOR CHARACTER OKAY IT'S SPOCK (macro). We see that Kirk is less of a brilliant tactician but more of a miracle worker, able to utilize sheer velocity and cussedness to escape from an impossible scenario, or by outright cheating as their microtheme the Kobayashi Maru reflects. Mercy is dangerous in the wrong hands, a Starfleet Ship is too, and a device which promises the creation of a planet filled with life and resources. It addresses the price of things! How novel! And in a risky move that ultimately pays off, the screenwriters kill off a beloved character at the climax of their fun space adventure film and still manage a hopeful and uplifting ending.
It's full of miracles like this, really. The powers that be hired a guy who desperately wanted to make a submarine action film and then they stepped back and let him do his job. I'm convinced that Nicholas Meyer is some sort of unsung genius in this regard. He is what Metropolis was all about, the bridge between the head and the hands, bringing tactics to a brutal fistfight (or he could be Star Trek's Martin Campbell... he did do Time After Time). The camera is wonderfully involved in everything, and strikes that crucial balance between staying out of the way of the material and getting us right inside of it. The film moves when it needs to, but isn't afraid to take its time. They even took my suggestions for the last film and sped up a shuttle docking sequence into a much shorter, more powerful moment as the Enterprise lights come on one-by-one with a triumphant score FUCK YES
The Wrath of Khan deserves its status as an oft-mentioned Great Star Trek film, even if saying it's great is equivalent to saying Stairway to Heaven is great -- who's going to argue? NOBODY WORTH THEIR VAMPIRE SALT. I have nothing but good things to say about it... well, okay, maybe "How the hell did Chekov survive, exactly?" And this assertion that Kirk needs to command a ship falls flat in the face of the presence of "You are getting too old to succeed." And I guess the film does advocate tyranny of the majority... but hey, it also advocates execution! So... win/lose?
"There is no correct resolution. It's a test of character." See? Is that so hard to fuckin write, you hack bastards?