Khan and some two dozen crew were marooned by Captain Kirk (William Shatner) fifteen years ago on a planet that barely supported life. Half the crew members eventually died, most by a trilobite thing that crawls into the ear. Khan keeps examples as pets in his lab, just in case he ever gets the drop on visiting Star Fleet officers.
Because it is a movie, this indeed happens, with Russian-accented Chekov (Walter Koenig) as unwilling host for the trilobites, along with luckless redshirt Paul Winfield. Now they are slaves to Khan, since the trilobites for some reason only inflict pain when their hosts disobey Khan.
Khan is able to capture the Reliant spaceship, and uses it to disable the Enterprise, the spaceship housing Kirk and his all-star residuals crew. They include logical pointy-eared Spock (Leonard Nimoy), ever-grouchy doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley), excitable engineer Scotty (James Doohan), agreeable navigator Sulu (George Takei), and communications officer Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). New to the gang is Kirstie Alley, playing Spock's protégé.
The Enterprise is disabled, but of course not destroyed, and Kirk eventually gets the better of Khan, because Kirk is needed for more sequels while Khan is disposable. There is a worry that Khan will get ahold of the Genesis Device, which will allow him to reboot all life on a given planet. Instead, it is used to bring Spock back from the dead in the third Star Trek movie, as he dies a martyr in the present film.
How others will see it. Star Trek fans were wowed by The Wrath of Khan. At the Saturn Awards, the film cleaned up, winning Best Director and Best Actor in addition to six other nominations. The film's commercial success opened the doors to endless sequels and television series spin-offs.
Today at imdb.com, the film has a lofty 117K user votes. The user rating is high at 7.7. U.S. viewers grade it even higher, 8.0, while non-Americans are only slightly less impressed, at 7.5 out of 10.
User reviews point out various flaws in the movie. What did Khan's crew eat on their desolated planet for 15 years? Doesn't look like they can grow banana trees there. Why does Scotty carry his injured son into the bridge, when sick bay would be a more practical (though less visually dramatic) alternative.
But most viewers enjoy the film. One writes, "hands down, my favorite Star Trek movie." Another notes that the villian is "magnificently played by Ricardo Montalban."
How I felt about it. The Wrath of Khan may well be the best of the Star Trek movies, if Trekkies doesn't count. It has advantages over others. The original cast, unlike Generations and beyond. It has a pretty good script and story. And the director and writer did their homework. They watched all the original episodes and honed in on "Space Seed", even though Ricardo Montalban was getting old and long since typecast as a mellifluous demigod with a pet dwarf on "Fantasy Island." Their decision worked.
But there are problems. We can live without Kirk's son and ex-lover. Why not make the Genesis team unrelated to Kirk? Then there's the hammy acting, which afflicts Kirk, Khan, Kirk's son, and McCoy. McCoy's racism toward Spock is today less of a running gag than an embarrassment, and why is it that Khan is the sole survivor among his crew? Just lucky? Aside from Khan, Joachim (Judson Scott) seems to be the only member of his crew with speaking lines. The rest are extras. As for Joachim, he looks 30 years old. So, he was 15 when the crew was marooned?
It is interesting that Ricardo Montalban is now remembered more as Khan than as Mr. Roarke, or a car pitchman extolling Corinthian Leather, or from his roles in myriad other films and television shows. But that was how Montalban would have wanted it. Better to be Khan than as the latin lover who wins Esther Williams in Neptune's Daughter.