Follow TV Tropes


YMMV / Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Go To

  • Award Snub:
    • James Doohan said he thought Ricardo Montalbán should have received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, complaining that movies like Star Trek never receive nominations for major awards.
    • James Horner was not nominated for his score, which fans and critics alike considered one of the best in Trek history.
  • Foe Yay: There is some palpable sexual tension between Kirk and Khan, even if it's just rivalry. When Khan is preparing to fire on the Enterprise, he seems to be close to ejaculating at the prospect, as well as after Kirk screams his name.
  • Franchise Original Sin:
    • This film started the trend of every Star Trek film being built around a confrontation with one particular villain, as it was the first in a very long line of Actionized Sequels.note  For better or for worse, this was a necessary change of pace for the series after the lukewarm response to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which went for a more cerebral storyline but was roundly criticized for its slow pace. Two decades later, when Star Trek: Nemesis became a Box Office Bomb after being criticized for its one-dimensional villain and its gratuitous action (most infamously, the nonsensical car chase that comes out of nowhere), the producers finally realized that they couldn't keep milking the old Wrath of Khan formula indefinitely. The Star Trek reboot films avoided that pitfall by placing less emphasis on the big villain and more on the ensemble cast trying to deal with the villain's plot.
    • Advertisement:
    • The film was also the first installment to really introduce the Screen Shake and Explosive Instrumentation in battle as hallmarks of the franchise. The Original Series had fairly sedate cues that they were in battle, flashing lights and the bridge crew lurching to one side with the camera just doing a moving Dutch Angle. The Motion Picture featured a light rumble (with a video distortion effect) and just one console explodes on Chekhov as an apparently deliberate power surge from V'Ger. This film had actual explosions with collapsing walls and falling support structures, along with stunt work as people are flipping over banisters, giving the starship battles a sense of danger. However, these big explosions only happen as the result of serious damage, such as the bridge of the Reliant being struck by phaser fire from the Enterprise, or the Reliant having a warp nacelle blown off (and, more to the point, almost all combat is done shieldless for various reasons, to narratively make the combat far more dangerous and impactful; as a result, almost every attack both ships make is of major consequence and is believably portrayed as causing substantial damage, much like actual tall ship battles). As the revival television series took hold, these elements were retained, but were increasingly used in battles where it made no sense, particularly for vessels that were still at high shield stregnth.
  • Advertisement:
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: As this film began production, Paramount executives asked producer Harve Bennett if he could make it under a $45 million budget. To which, Bennett answered "Where I come from, I can make five movies for that." Sadly, Bennett made only 4 Trek films, including this one; after the disappointing reception of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier severely damaged his career, Paramount rejecting his "origin" story proposal for Star Trek VI.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Carol's explanation to Kirk about not telling David that Kirk was his father becomes this after his death in The Search for Spock.
    Carol Marcus: You had your world, and I had mine. And I wanted him in mine! Not chasing through the universe with his father.
    • The Genesis Device carries connotations of being a nuclear weapon. The next film that Nicholas Meyer and Bibi Besch worked on together...was The Day After. Meyer said that work on that film made him physically sick and Besch said that had it been made first, she would have played Dr. Marcus very differently.
  • Heartwarming in Hindsight:
    • Spock says that Kirk's solution to the Kobayashi Maru "was, shall we say, unique". In Star Trek (2009), when Kirk says to Spock Prime that what he's doing, disclosing future history, is cheating, Spock answers that it's "A trick I learned from an old friend."
    • Now that Leonard Nimoy has passed away, McCoy's line after Spock's funeral is especially poignant.
      McCoy: He's not really dead, as long as we remember him.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Spock invented The Picard Maneuver!
  • Ho Yay:
    • Kirk/Spock (surprise, surprise). Notably at the end of the movie: Kirk and Spock press hands against the glass as Spock dies. Spock's death has a huge impact on Kirk (which continues into the third movie.) Kirk says he's never truly faced death before, "not like this," even though his brother died during the series. Kirk would go on to say that he had lost "the noblest half of [him]self"—and look closely. Kirk and Spock are Vulcan kissing through the damn glass!
    • Academic Henry Jenkins tells of using this film to explain the concept of SlashFic.
      Jenkins: When I try to explain slash to non-fans, I often reference that moment in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan where Spock is dying and Kirk stands there, a wall of glass separating the two longtime buddies. Both of them are reaching out towards each other, their hands pressed hard against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. [...] And, I tell my nonfan listeners, slash is what happens when you take away the glass.
    • Khan's obsession with Kirk can be interpreted as Foe Yay.
      Nicholas Meyer: Kirk did not lie awake thinking about Khan; Khan lay awake thinking about Kirk.
    • It takes three men to restrain Kirk from opening the door holding back lethal radiation just so he can be with Spock in his final moments. And what's more, Bones and Scotty knew full well they would have to do it and were already prepared when he arrived.
  • Hype Backlash: Gets its share of this from fans of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, who consider the militaristic themes of this film a betrayal of Gene Roddenberry's vision, and are aggrieved that the more deep and profound themes from that film are overlooked in favor of the somewhat more standard-issue revenge story that this film focuses around. To a lesser extent the film gets this from fans of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; unlike fans of The Motion Picture they generally do like this film, but feel that The Undiscovered Country perfected what it was trying to accomplish.
  • Idiot Plot: The plot happens because the crew of the Reliant collectively manages not to notice a missing planetnote , not to mention whomever is responsible for no one on Reliant or the Genesis team being aware of Ceti Alpha's current occupants (be it them, Kirk & Co., or Starfleet Command). Kirk, an experienced officer with an experienced Number One in Spock, ignores blatant signs that something is wrong with the Reliant. Then Khan the superior intellect fails to recognise a ridiculously obvious Public Secret Message (although this one is at least deliberate on the part of the writers, to show that Khan is smart and clever, but not as clever as he thinks he is or the idea of his genetic enhancements would lead one to believe).
  • It Was His Sled: The Kobayashi Maru opening sequence was included because Spock's death was one before the movie was finished.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Khan. He may be a mass-murdering warlord, but you can't help but feel bad for him as his happy life from the end of "Space Seed" had been ruined.
  • Like You Would Really Do It: Technically subverted with the death of Mr. Spock. Only technically because he gets revived in the next movie. At the time of release, the character was actually meant to be Killed Off for Real.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Khan Noonien Singh, introduced in "Space Seed" was once a benevolent dictator who controlled a quarter of Earth during the Eugenics Wars. Defeated and frozen, Khan plays on his own charisma and charm to ingratiate himself to the Enterprise before overthrowing Kirk to take it over and continue his conquests. Eventually overthrown and left on the savage, lush world of Ceti Alpha Five, Khan is found 20 years later, bitter and furious over a cataclysm that has left him with only twenty of his followers, even his beloved wife gone. Using infected spies, Khan lures Kirk into a trap, intending to bury him alive and leave him suffering, showing the strategic brilliance he is known for, even using his final moments to quote Moby-Dick to illustrate his hatred for Kirk.
  • Memetic Mutation:
  • Mis-blamed: Spock's death is sometimes accused of being a horrible writing cheat, making a huge emotional moment of it only to bring him back in the next film. In fact, while Khan was being made it was fully intended that Spock's death would be permanent. This was both due to Nimoy's exhaustion with playing the character, but also because due to the critical and box-office disappoinment of The Motion Picture. Paramount was ready to pull the plug on the franchise, using Khan as the series Grand Finale. The plan was only changed when Leonard Nimoy was surprised to find how much he was enjoying playing the role again after it had taken quite a bit of convincing for him to come back for the first film, and after Khan turned out to be a Surprisingly Improved Sequel that saved the franchise from extinction. If anything, it's a credit to the writers that they had set up just enough of a proverbial "out" if they wanted to bring Spock back while leaving the ending open enough to go in multiple directions, depending on the reception of the movie.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Well, by the time he shows up, we know Khan Noonien Singh is a bastard, if a magnificent one, especially if you've seen Star Trek: The Original Series. But when he starts putting worms in people's ears, you realize that perhaps he's kicked it up a notch on the Evulz scale; but you say to yourself that he's intelligent and charming and surely he can be reasoned with. But... when he listens to a minion kill himself and doesn't so much as blink, merely ordering the surviving minion to hurry up and carry out his orders, you realize this guy ain't coming back from the horizon. Khan also certainly reminds the audience that he's evil when he activates the Genesis device instead of surrendering to the Enterprise. He knows that he'll take down at least one of the Enterprise's own, if not the entire freaking ship. He would have wiped out many people just to satisfy a longtime desire for revenge. It wound up that Spock, Kirk's closest friend, sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise.
  • Narm: As Scotty and McCoy attempt to restrain Kirk, a third person (an engineer) is also shown trying to restrain him, but as he's collapsing, it looks like he's doing something else to Kirk...
  • Newer Than They Think:
    • "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." It sounds like an old proverb, but more reliable sources point to this movie as the origin of the phrase.
    • On the other hand, it sums up the philosophy known as utiliarianism, which is about two hundred years older than the movie.
  • Rooting for the Empire: Back in the day, many fans, especially new ones who loved Ricardo Montalban in Fantasy Island, hoped Khan would actually succeed, or at least live to see another day.
  • Surprisingly Improved Sequel: One of the essentially canonical examples, and for a time on this very wiki, Wrath of Khan was even used as an attempted argument point as to why SIS shouldn't be a YMMV trope because it's just such a quantifiable improvement over the previous film that there's really no argument over the point. The film is such an example in the zeitgeist at this point that other film series which follow up on their first installment with a much better-received sequel are said to have "pulled a Wrath of Khan".
    • Arthur C. Clarke considered listing Khan as one of the best science fiction movies of all time. Considering Clarke's far greater enthusiasm for 'hard' science fiction, any recommendation at all suggests a pretty strong film.
    • One analysis puts Khan as the best sequel in all of film. See the graph halfway down the page, and the single dot in the 20s on the Y axis? That's Khan. No other movie has improved the overall rating of a franchise more than this one.
  • Tough Act to Follow: Every subsequent Star Trek film has been measured up to this film, particularly Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, frequently falling short among fans. The only three that are really comparable are Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (which is so different in tone and plot as to be almost impossible to really compare), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (which tied in with then-topical issues related to the end of the Cold War, and on top of that was made by the same hands as Khan), and Star Trek: First Contact (which is sort of rehashing this one, with its themes of obsession, though in that case it's the hero, Picard, who is obsessed with his enemy, not the villain). The film helped to establish a pattern that even-numbered Trek films were better received and generally superior films to the odd-numbered ones; at least, until film 10, Star Trek: Nemesis broke the pattern, after which it shifted to the odd-numbered films.note 
  • Values Dissonance: The scene where Kirk makes a pass at Saavik. In the context of the scene, it shows Saavik's inability to pick up on human social cues and is another reminder to Kirk that he's getting old. However, today it is more apparent that this is an Admiral trying to flirt with a cadet, one who is in his direct line of command and who is also a student. It's not readily apparent what her age is (as she's Vulcan) but it's written into academic and military codes of conduct today that someone like Kirk should absolutely not be hitting on a person so vastly junior to him.
  • What an Idiot!:
    • Adm. Kirk, which he admitted to being one immediately after getting bushwhacked by Khan, for not putting the Enterprise on full defensive alert as directed by regulations when facing the unresponsive and then outright lying USS Reliant.
    • Khan, for letting his pride and desire for revenge cloud his better judgement. This costs him his life.
  • "Weird Al" Effect: Much like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, all the literary quotes used throughout are often attributed only to this film. It doesn't help that the characters occasionally mis-attribute the quoutes on purpose in-universe, in particular the "revenge best served cold" one (that's Eugène Sue via D.G. Osbourne, not Klingons).
  • Win Back the Crowd: After the critical disappointment of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Khan proved to be this for Star Trek fans and is now considered the gold standard for all the films to follow in its wake.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: