You could say many things about William Shatner but you probably wouldn’t say he’s a subtle actor. Unless you compare his acting style to the delicate and restrained thespian stylings of Ricardo Montalban, who appears here as genetically enhanced super-overactor, Khan Noonien Singh. Two heavy hitters of the overacting community square off and naturally Kirk triumphs, but his win comes at a price.
The consensus regarding Star Trek films is that The Motion Picture was a lackluster effort and The Wrath of Khan was among the best — if not the best — of all of them. I’d agree that The Motion Picture had its fair share of issues but it also had a decent science fictional concept at its heart, and did a passable job at creating the sense of wonder that good science fiction often manages.
You’d be hard pressed to argue that Wrath doesn’t do a lot of things better than TMP and I wouldn’t even try. It’s a rip-roaring adventure story that’s well-paced (unlike TMP) and keeps the viewer engaged throughout and sometimes even on the edge of their seat.
But while it features all of Star Trek‘s usual array of SF trappings you could make the argument that at the heart of things Wrath is not really a science fiction story at all — which might be beside the point. It could probably have worked just as well with Khan the pirate being marooned on a remote island in the Caribbean or Khan the ex-con getting out of prison and seeking vengeance on the person who put him there. It’s all about the revenge, after all.
It also comes off as a bit campy after all these years — perhaps it did back in the day as well. But I’m as much of a fan of the pulpy stuff as anyone and if you try to imagine Khan as a latter day version of Ming the Merciless or Killer Kane — but with much more luxurious hair — then it works pretty well.
Pointy sideburns — all the rage.
After the mostly sanitized battle scene of the original series it’s interesting to witness scenes where there’s actual destruction.
Exactly what was Mr. Scott’s purpose for lugging a body up to the bridge?
Khan and the gang might have lacked fashion sense but he and his sidekick had some magnificently blow-dried Eighties hair.
The Spock thing might have had a bit more impact if it wasn’t made quite obvious that he would be back.
Couldn’t anyone have bothered to coat Carol Marcus’s twentieth century housewife overcoat (with belt) with a layer of foil (or whatever) to give it that authentic futuristic look?
Controlling people via creepy buglike critters in their ears is pulp fictional villainy of the highest order.
Kirk pulling out his glasses in the thick of things made for great comedy. But will we really be wearing glasses several centuries into our enlightened future?
Ahab… uh… Khan never actually foamed at the mouth but would you really have been surprised if he had?
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William I. Lengeman III’s last article for us was Poetic Witchery and the Strangeness in Ordinary Things: Algernon Blackwood’s The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories. He holds forth at www.wileng3.com.