Whilst on a routine training cruise, Admiral Kirk must take command of the Enterprise to come to the aid of Carol Marcus on space-station Regula One ( a research outpost). Kirk will face an old enemy bent on vengeance, and must retain control of the Genesis device (a terraforming probe capable of destroying all life on a world). Ultimately, Kirk and Spock must face up to the Kobayashi Maru, a no-win scenario that will require the ultimate sacrifice.
Still widely regarded as the best film in the Star Trek pantheon, Star Trek 2 reinvigorated the Star Trek franchise by focusing on character, adventure and excitement. Tonally, it’s very different to the first film. Gone is the sterility and pretentiousness, replaced by a focus on character, grit and excitement. The sequel acknowledges the fact that the cast have grown older and turns this into a strength as it humanises the characters.
“There’s a man out there I haven’t seen in fifteen years who’s trying to kill me. You show me a son that’d be happy to help. My son… my life that could have been… and wasn’t. How do I feel? Old… worn out.” – James Kirk
Nicholas Meyer brings a naval feel to proceedings, which is augmented by a wonderfully bombastic musical score from James Horner. Meyer also brings a ‘literate’ approach to the material, with characters readily quoting from Shakespeare, Milton and Dickens. Spock gives Kirk the book ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’ for his birthday, “surely the best of times”, he suggests.
Meyer takes concepts from Greek tragedy, painting Kirk as a flawed hero, who must endure the results of some bad decisions. Kirk chose to maroon Khan on Ceti Alpha V, and as Khan states “he never bothered to check on our progress”. Kirk chose a life in Starfleet rather than with Carol Marcus and his son, resulting in his estrangement from his family. Finally, Kirk ignores procedure (and Saavik’s advice), failing to raise the Enterprise’s shields, when communication is not established with Reliant. This ultimately results in at least one crew members death and extensive damage to the ship.
“The hero always thinks he knows the answer, and ultimately he learns that he doesn’t. […] There is always a point in Greek plays, known as ‘peripatea’, where the hero learns that everything he knew is wrong.” – Nicholas Meyer
Ricardo Montalban plays Khan, who can be seen as an Ahab like figure, chasing down Moby/Kirk across the ocean of space.
“No. No, you can’t get away. ‘From Hell’s heart… I stab at thee. For hate’s sake I spit my last breath… at thee’.”
Although Khan’s vengeance drives the film, it’s also about renewal, both literally, with the Genesis device and figuratively, with Kirk realising that his first, best destiny is to be captain of the Enterprise. There are also themes of friendship, age, loss and death, which are all tied to an exciting screenplay.
Meyer exploits the best aspects of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatners acting strengths. In fact, Shatner is a revelation in this movie. Often criticised for being hammy, he turns in a powerful performance in Star Trek 2. Kirk is vulnerable, yet decisive and the final scene where Spock is trapped behind the glass is very well acted by both men.
The ever reliable and effortlessly cool Deforest Kelley also puts in a wonderful performance and provides much of the films heart. I especially like this sardonic one liner as Kirk and McCoy prepare to beam down to Regula One.
Spock: Jim, be careful.
McCoy: *We* will!
Star Trek: The Motion Picture was one of the most expensive films that Paramount had ever produced. For Star Trek 2, the budget was greatly reduced and a Star Trek aficionado can spot reused props and indeed some visual effects from The Motion Picture. The Enterprise bridge set from Star Trek: The Motion Picture was redressed for use as the Kobayashi Maru simulator, the Enterprise bridge, and the Reliant bridge.
Meyer turns the lack of budget into a positive, the shipboard action provides the film with a claustrophobic feel. Sequences like the tense showdown between Kirk and Khan in the nebula, give the feel of an old World War 2 submarine movie.
ILM supply the visual effects, which hold up well – even today. Of particular note to fans of cinema is the groundbreaking Genesis effect sequence, which pioneered the use of CGI on film. A 1882 ‘making of’ can be viewed on YouTube.
In summary then, this is a film that stands the test of time and is to Star Trek fans, what ‘Empire’ is to fans of Star Wars. Exciting, tense, endlessly quotable and emotional, it’s not just a great Star Trek picture, but a great film.