I remember watching the Star Trek movies endlessly as a child, preferring the cast of the original show to the then-airing Next Generation (though I watched it as well) because something felt more human about it–I always thought Next Gen seemed too clean and artificial by comparison. I saw very little of the original show then, but tried to catch what I could. The movies, though, were the place I always went. The stronger budgeting and resulting effects in conjunction with the set of characters that included the fan-favourite Spock (Leonard Nimoy, of course), as well as plots that included time travel amongst other things made them my favourite incarnation overall.
Often cited as the best of the Star Trek films overall, The Wrath of Khan is, as you should really already know, a continuation of original series first season episode “Space Seed,” about the results of a “20th century” genetic engineering experiment gone awry. The end product of said engineering was Khan Noonien Singh (the infamous Ricardo Montalban), who we see abandoned to a planet to start a new society in world in that episode. Now, as with the first film, the original crew of the USS Enterprise is scattered around by the federation–most of it remains onboard their home ship, but Pavel Chekhov (Walter Koenig, which you should know already) is onboard the USS Reliant, working to discover the nature of planet Ceti Alpha VI with captain Clark Terrell (Paul Winfield, a decent character actor who wanders in and out of many things) and its viability for use as a testing ground for “Project Genesis,” a device which will create life on a lifeless planet. They find a crashed ship on the planet, though, and Chekhov alone recognizes the name “Botany Bay”–this is the ship Singh was banished in to Ceti Alpha *V*. He immediately attempts to ferry Terrell out of there and back to the ship, but Khan is waiting for them and does not allow their escape. In a terribly memorable scene (one that ingrained itself on my young and impressionable mind as horrifying and disturbing) Khan introduces the two Federation officers to the “Ceti eel,” which gives him control over the two of them.
It is now a game of revenge to Khan, for he blames Kirk for the predicament he and his crew (reduced from fifty to fifteen, including the loss of his wife) have found themselves in. Kirk (William Shatner, duh) is brought in from training, overseeing the testing of Lieutenant Saavik (Kirstie Alley, of all people), training under Captain Spock to become a Captain herself. The research team in charge of the Genesis project, headed by Carol Marcus, calls in for help and Kirk assumes command of the Enterprise, engaging Khan in tricks and maneouvres in an attempt to maintain control of the Genesis project and his own life.
This is indeed probably the best of all the films, with a strong villain turning in a strong performance (I found Montalban easier to swallow in this film, his accent a little more under control, his face weathered and hardened, and less of his more typical sleek, suited appearance present in the now long-haired character of Khan) and an interesting plot, but mostly one based around examining Kirk’s resigning to accepting his age, McCoy’s firey passion (you knew DeForest Kelley was McCoy, right? Right?), Scotty’s pride in the Enterprise (again, James Doohan, which you should probably already know if you’re reading about the sequel to a film that was the sequel to a TV series, and even more to the point a movie that’s the sequel to a specific episode) and Spock’s sense of duty and friendship. We have more character-driven subplots, including the romance previously shared between Carol Marcus and Captain Kirk, and the split that occurred during their time together thanks to their differing views and careers.
The effects are up to par for a film of this age, and what little shows its age is easily overlooked (and in my opinion it SHOULD be overlooked without a second thought) as it’s an engaging bit of play and fun between Shatner and Montalban as mortal enemies, Kirk forced by Khan’s stubborn determination for revenge into playing a game he thought he had given up–even if he didn’t want to.