Welcome to Reel Rewind, a monthly column in which I’ll take a look back at some of my favorite films, bringing along artists that I can’t get enough of. We’ll team up for some fun collaborations and bridge the gap between film appreciation and art. To commemorate Star Trek Into Darkness, Matt Ferguson and I are looking back at the original crew’s first 6 film. Energize!
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Writer(s): Harve Bennett, Jack B. Sowards, Samuel A. Peeples & Nicholas Meyer
Region of Origin: U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
35mm, Color, 113 mins
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan starts off with a bang when we’re immediately treated to a frantic echo of Alexander Courage’s original theme song, this time delivered by the jubilant horns of James Horner’s vibrant score. In that very second, we know that the franchise has been rejuvenated and brought to life with a purpose. With the original film establishing the show’s ideas and themes with a reflective and romanticized view, Wrath of Khan delves deep into the characters we love with urgency and danger. In many ways, it can be considered the Dark Knight of the bunch, not for attempting to ground the series’ more fantastic elements but because it doesn’t pull any punches. Death and mortality abound in every conversation and action, but in true Trek fashion, it only makes our heroes stronger and teaches them the true value of life, death and sacrifice.
The story this time finds our crew prepping for a training mission in which Admiral Kirk will oversee Captain Spock and some new recruits. What starts as a routine test quickly turns into a dangerous fight for survival however, when a science team with ties to Kirk crosses paths with one of Trek’s most formidable foes, the tyrannical Khan Noonien Singh (last seen in the original series episode Space Seed). Following their previous encounter in which Kirk exiled Khan and his genetically engineered super soldiers to an uncharted planet, Khan engages in a personal vendetta against the Enterprise, vowing to steal the science team’s terraforming Genesis device while stopping Kirk and crew in their tracks once in for all. What follows is an incredible cat-and-mouse game which will only end when both parties have lost more than they can bear.
From the very start, Wrath of Khan doesn’t mess around. At first threatening it’s characters with the impossible Kobayshi Maru simulation and then Chekov’s near death, the film jumps headfirst into danger, delivering the highest stakes up to this point to tell a rich character study. It all ends up playing out like two simultaneous chess games: one in which a badly damaged USS Enterprise faces off against Khan’s smaller, yet agile Reliant, and the other, between the minds of Kirk and Khan as they attempt to one-up each other for survival. In the end, it’s director Nicholas Meyer’s ability to deftly cohere and balance these two elements into a thematic dichotomy that takes the franchise into bold, new territory. This is still big, epic storytelling, but this time through the very focused and dire lens of our trapped heroes.
Putting the film’s thrills in perspective is the story’s character work, which shows that the biggest and most important adventures are the people standing right next to us. Kirk and Spock in particular shine like never before, each finally getting a chance to face their own “no-win” situations with poignancy and grace. Spock’s sacrifice is one of the most beautifully filmed and heartfelt moments the series will ever get. And while it’s always been difficult to read his feelings, it’s crystal clear where his allegiances stand when his logic, emotion and actions all come full circle. You can’t help but be moved by the sense of stoicism, duty and honor that Leonard Nimoy perfectly encapsulates. William Shatner, always brash and a bit cocky, finally confronts the consequences of his actions as Kirk discovers that he has a son and meets an old flame by way of Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch). Shatner can be a lovable ham sometimes (KHAAAANNNN!), but it’s his natural charisma in dealing with pressure that make him irresistible and a fierce leader. Out of the newer characters, Kirstie Alley’s Saavik is fun, playing a a protege to Spock with Vulcan heritage. It’s nice to finally see someone unwittingly “understand” all of Spock’s dry indifference.
Of course, our heroes wouldn’t be able to shine so bright without a dark, serious villain, and that’s exactly what Ricardo Montalban delivers with Khan. Ricardo plays the perfect polar opposite of Shatner, charismatic and intelligent, but to a fault. As a genetically enhanced super soldier, his thirst for vengeance rings profound, and even his superior intellect can’t save him from unravelling from hate, one of human nature’s most destructive forces.
For a franchise just beginning a successful film run, it seems a bit premature to confront mortality, legacy and death head on, yet it’s because of this that the film is finally able to give these characters the emotional and thematic pay-off that they deserve. From concept to execution, Meyer’s made an intelligent film, breathing new life into the franchise and making it bigger by exploring the relationships of it’s beloved characters. This is the human adventure that we were originally promised, brimming with death and destruction in order to give way to birth and rejuvenation. Now let’s toast some Romulan Ale in honor of those who got lost along the way.
Crome Rating: 4.5/5
And here we are, another amazing poster from Matt Ferguson! He did well to focus on a portrait of the iconic Khan, with just a hint of the Enterprise/Reliance chase encircling him. As I was watching the film, I couldn’t get over how ruthless Ricardo Montalban was as Khan, he’s a perfect villain played with nuance by an incredible actor. Check out Matt’s website for more art, follow him on Twitter and read a bit about his process down below. Matt also did the art for the recently released Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One box set.
From Matt: The Wrath Of Khan is my personal favorite Star Trek film so it was a daunting task for me to create a poster for it. I did create a Khan poster several years ago, but I was always unhappy with how it turned out… this was a perfect opportunity for me to revisit the film and go at the poster all guns blazing!
The title says it all and for me to be happy with the poster I had to really get Khans likeness perfect. I wanted him to be menacing while also showing no emotion on his face, so in order to achieve this I had to concentrate on his eyes. It took a lot of work and revisions but I am finally happy with how it turned out!
See our entire Trek retrospective here: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek (2009).