In The Wrath of Khan, no now. No tomorrow. No forever. I will have my revenge. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of gore, blood, body horror.
All in nature ends.
There’s a cycle within The Wrath of Khan, one that openly acknowledges that the characters within this universe are not getting any younger. How does that affect them? How does Kirk deal with other Starfleet members taking his place? (Poorly, L O L.) Can humanity create a device that gives life, much like a god? Should we do that?
These are important questions that the movie asks, and it does so through violence. Unlike the show, The Wrath of Khan does not shy away from displaying exactly what Khan’s wrath entails. It’s a CONSTANTLY shocking ride from beginning to end. While I absolutely loved the first film, this one’s got a pacing that’s a lot more like The Original Series. By building off what The Motion Picture established, this film spends less time introducing the crew, less time examining a redesigned Enterprise, and less time with any sort of set-up to the plot.
And goddamn, it’s so good. LET’S TALK ABOUT WHY.
A good villain really can make or break a piece of fiction, and there’s a brilliance to the dichotomy to Khan. There are multiple references to Moby Dick, from the shot of the book on Khan’s shelf to the outright quotes, and they’re important to establish the obsessive revenge narrative within this film. But saying that Khan’s obsession is the sole reason for his behavior is limiting our understanding of his character. As evil and genocidal as Khan is, he also completely believes he’s in the right. He believes that he never should have been sent to Alpha V, and he believes that the loss of his wife (I’m guessing that’s a reference to Lt. McGivers?) is therefore Kirk’s fault. His obsession is based on a moral right – at least to him, that is.
There’s a certain campiness to Montalban’s performance, but it’s done in a way that’s thrilling to watch. Montalban slips right back into this role as if he never stopped playing it, and it’s amazing. And I think that the nature of his characterization means that he’s going to be ridiculous. He’s a genetically advanced superhuman who knows he is intellectually superior to most people, which also ends up being his weakness in this film. Who is better qualified to quote Melville and make ridiculous monologues and constantly put his own needs and desires above all else? He works within this specific narrative because that drive of his fuels the tension. It forces Kirk to examine his own complicity in events and his legacy. LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT, Y’ALL.
In hindsight, there’s so much foreshadowing for the end of this that I’m embarrassed I picked up on absolutely none of it. But the use of Saavik (HOLY SHIT, IT’S A YOUNG KIRSTIE ALLEY, SHE WAS SO GREAT) and the Starfleet newbies was meant both for a commentary on Kirk’s age and as an examination of the affect of death on a star captain. It really is true that Kirk had spent the entirety of The Original Series cleverly avoiding death. Sure, a bunch of redshirts and guest stars died, but did anyone truly meaningful die because of a decision Captain Kirk had ever made? Even during the Kobayashi Maru scenario in Starfleet training, Captain Kirk cheated death. He found a way around the acceptable parameters. And that worked beautifully for him, time and time again, until the events of this film.
AND IT’S SO FUCKED UP. Look, Kirk’s exile of Khan is vital to this story. Without it, none of this happens. So his decisions matter, and I think that you could argue that his choice to act independent of the Federation in sentencing Khan was flawed. Could this have been avoided? Would Terrell and Chekov have had to suffer as they had if Khan had not been forced to live on Alpha V? Or if someone had actually gone back to check on Khan and his people? What if he had escaped long before??? Surely, you’d want to keep him under lock and key, right? But that carelessness is a part of this, you know? That’s not to say that Khan’s actions are justified at all, and it’s not to say that Kirk is responsible for Khan. But I feel like The Wrath of Khan wants us to understand this context so that we can appreciate the severity of this struggle.
And yet, it’s not until the final moments that we truly understand the Kobayashi Maru scenario. I had believed that this was always about how Kirk refuses to accept a no-win scenario. Which is true! That’s exactly what Kirk has been doing for years! That’s why there’s such a deliberate optimism to the Star Trek universe. The show itself refused to submit to pessimism or cynicism, but what happens when Admiral Kirk is faced with a pyrrhic victory? Does he know how to deal with death?
Circle of Friendship
While I still have a similar complain for The Wrath of Khan concerning its supporting cast, I do think this film does a better job with Spock, Bones, and Chekov, who all have much larger roles than the last film. Chekov in particular is now a First Officer ON HIS OWN STARSHIP, which is a terribly exciting development. But part of the tension of this movie comes from seeing how these old friends interact with one another. How does Kirk react to seeing Chekov controlled by that horrible thing? (I WILL NEVER BE OKAY WITH THAT. EVER.) How does Bones try to help Kirk deal with his fears of aging? How does Spock choose to help his friend?
I CAN’T TALK ABOUT IT YET.
So we’ve got a crew full of fresh recruits mixed in with the people we know and trust and love. And it’s both a fun thing to watch and REALLY FUCKING TERRIFYING. Again, the show sanitized a lot of the violence, but once Khan fires on the Enterprise, it’s as close as this series has ever gotten to a bloodbath. Hell, I’m not even used to seeing blood on Star Trek, so to get glimpses of intense burns, cuts, and bruises was shocking as hell. I don’t think this fictional universe NEEDS graphic displays of violence, but I thought they were appropriate here. We needed to see what “wrath” meant. And it’s horrifying to watch, particularly when Scotty carries in that poor technician who died of his burns. (HE STAYED AT HIS STATION EVEN THOUGH HE COULD HAVE SURVIVED IF HE HAD NOT.) This really felt like one of the worst situations the Enterprise crew had ever been through, y’all. It was awful to watch!
And then Spock saves the day.
It makes sense to me that Spock relied solely on logic – logic that Kirk had passed along to him earlier in the film – to discover a way to beat the no-win situation. Of course, the tragic irony is that he was the one who lost in the end, but that was logical to him. It was logical to him to die so that the entire crew could survive, so that Khan would lose and take no one else with him. And that’s where the cycle comes back in: in his attempt to destroy, Khan created life. The cycle begins again.
It just begins without Spock.
I kept waiting for some explanation that would wave this away. I kept waiting for a last-second twist ending. I kept waiting for anything that would give me that clever opportunity for Spock to cheat death. Except I’m watching him tell Kirk goodbye and that he’ll always be a friend and I needed it to stop and my eyes were full of tears and WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS MOVIE DOING. NO. NO!!!! YOU CAN’T DO THIS. And that’s an absurd notion, obviously, but look. Star Trek hasn’t historically been willing to fuck with it’s main or secondary cast in significant ways. They were always safe. I didn’t expect this because IT’S NEVER HAPPENED.
And yet, here it is. And I don’t want to deal with it at all. So, I have no idea what the next movie is about, and I just… I want this to be undone??? PLEASE? IT HURTS TOO MUCH. THAT FUNERAL SCENE ISN’T OKAY, THE SCENE BETWEEN DAVID AND KIRK ISN’T OKAY, I AM NEVER GOING TO BE OKAY. Why? Why have you done this to me????? (On that note, I was pretty bored by the whole Kirk/Carol/David storyline. I just can’t be bothered to care about Kirk’s romantic life anymore? It was such a huge and distracting part of the series’ third season, so BLAH. Can’t care!)
I’m so messed up.
The video for The Wrath of Kahn can be downloaded here for $1.99.
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