The Wrath of Khan Movie Review: Second Star Trek Film Expands on the Universe Built in the First

The Wrath of Khan Stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and is Directed by Nicholas Meyer

Review: For a movie made in 1982, there’s a lot of technical and visual brilliance instilled into The Wrath of Khan that helps push the industry towards a new era of striking filmmaking. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy take center stage in the second film in the Star Trek franchise.

The Wrath of Khan review William Shatner Leonard Nimoy Star Trek movie
The Wrath of Khan

Never mind. I wrote extensively in my review for Star Trek: The Motion Picture that I felt the comparisons between the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises were a bit lazy and surface-level. Now of course, I was basing this assessment on just one Star Trek movie that chose to keep the story smaller and more contained, using much of the runtime to build characters and relationships in the confines of Starship Enterprise, but I also felt the movies had varying shifts in tone and thematic purpose as well.

But The Wrath of Khan essentially makes that whole hypothesis wrong. This is much more like a Star Wars plot line. Khan (Ricardo Montalban) appears as the big bad for this film, needing revenge against Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) for events that happened long before the beginning of this movie. It’s not too dissimilar from Han Solo’s past being slowly revealed over the course of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Yet Star Trek does still have a different flavor than those Star Wars movies. There’s a feeling that you’re traversing through the galaxy, but Star Trek doesn’t feel the need (or interest) to show you the different planets or sets, unless they’re absolutely vital to the story. Kirk and Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) lead the ragtag team this time around, and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) get bigger roles with the absence of Captain Decker (Stephen Collins), who *checks notes* merges with an intergalactic being to create a new species at the end of The Motion Picture.

The Wrath of Khan doesn’t feel quite as heady as the first film, and instead opts for a tone closer to what you’d expect from a modern day science fiction flick. The iconography fills the sets, and there’s a significant expansion to the world that comes with the reveal of Admiral Kirk’s past from Khan. The showdown feels more typical and conventional at the end than what occurs at the end of The Motion Picture.

And The Wrath of Khan feels like the first time that, I suppose for lack of a better phrase, I get it. This is a world that I can see people yearning to spend more and more time in. Now obviously there are long TV series that happened even before the first film was released, but for people born years after these tv series and movies, I was curious where their entrance to the lore would be, or how they were able to find the connective tissue to get interested in Star Trek.

Reviews for Movies like The Wrath of Khan (1982)

I think The Wrath of Khan may just be that movie. Leonard Nimoy is given more runway this time around, truly building Spock into the series’ headlining character. He’s odd, compassionate, brilliant, and otherworldly all at the same time. The movie builds to a climax for Spock that is both earned and poetic, using the franchise’s strangest mainstay to say a lot about selfishness in society and the need to sacrifice something of yourself to help others.

Upon my reflection of the film, and perusing websites like Letterboxd to see user reactions, I’m a bit surprised by the negative backlash William Shatner gets as an actor. I’m not too familiar with his work outside of these two movies (my best prior experience to him is on a Comedy Central Roast, which I’ll admit, he’s not great on) but there’s a quietly devastating approach to Admiral Kirk for him that is easy to latch onto as a viewer – especially in the first 30 minutes.

Safe to say, I enjoyed The Wrath of Khan. It’s more my speed as an enjoyable, wildly adventurous science fiction film than the first, but hard to judge just one to one. They’re vastly different, and Director Nicholas Meyer is more interested in expanding the universe this time around than Robert Wise was in The Motion Picture. For a movie made in 1982, there’s a lot of technical and visual brilliance instilled into The Wrath of Khan that helps push the industry towards a new era of striking moviemaking where practical effects meets computer generated effects.


Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction

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Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan Cast and Credits

The Wrath of Khan movie poster and cast


William Shatner as Admiral James T. Kirk

Leonard Nimoy as Captain Spock

DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard McCoy

James Doohan as Montgomery Scott

George Takei as Lt. Commander Hikaru Sulu

Walter Koenig as Commander Chekov

Ricardo Montalban as Khan

Nichelle Nichols as Commander Uhura


Director: Nicholas Meyer

Writers: Harve BennettJack B. Sowards

Cinematography: Gayne Rescher

Editor: William Paul Dornisch

Composer: James Horner

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