"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" sounds even less enticing than "Rocky III" and lacks any secret weapon to justify its redundant existence. The closest it comes to irresistible silliness is a brief stretch in which William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban battle to a draw while making hammy faces at each other.
I suppose there's also something to be savored in clanging cliche's like "I'm your doctor and I'm your friend" and "You are my superior officer and you are also my friend" and "I have been, and always shall be, your friend," invariably addressed to Shatner's insufferably smug Adm. Kirk. They certainly set off a distinctive ringing in the ears, and the plot suggests that Kirk may indeed be subject to lapses of memory, since a number of characters from the past are revived to make his life difficult.
Still, if you're investing only modest expectations, "Wrath" will do as nicely as any other mediocre adventure movie. While not significantly better or worse than the predecessor, a rather astounding object of devotion for a movie studio--an enormously expensive recreation of a moribund TV series--this sequel is perfectly presentable and harmless, a klunker as comfortable as your easy chair.
Spared the ceremonial obligations of "Star Trek--The Motion Picture," which seemed to linger for weeks over the poignant reunions of all the old crew members and the immobile spectacle of the noble Spaceship Enterprise in orbital drydock, "Wrath" can take a sprightlier expository course. The ship takes off promptly for a routine training mission, manned by a batch of cadets under the immediate authority of Leonard Nimoy's Mr. Spock. Unforeseen peril awaits the crew on a sister ship, the Reliant, which falls into the vengeful clutches of Montalban's Khan, an antiquated buccaneer who was thwarted by Capt. Kirk in a TV episode called "The Space Seed" and left to rot in exile on a remote, barren planet. Reprieved, Khan vows to settle scores with Kirk, cruising conveniently toward him.
The Old Times motif has a romantic side, too. The mission reunites Kirk with a former passion, Bibi Besch as Dr. Carol Marcus, a nuclear scientist absorbed in a godlike creative venture called The Genesis Project, intended to engender "life out of lifelessness" on remote, zilcho planets by blasting them into lush, idyllic organic activity. Dr. Marcus is assisted by a curly haired youth called David (Merrill Butrick), a peevish offshoot of her affair with Kirk, who is naturally sobered by the thought that he has a grown son who's a total and even hostile stranger.
Director Nicholas Meyer has nothing as potent as Dr. Marcus' Genesis Device to work with, so he deserves some credit for performing a little "life out of lifelessness" stunt of his own on the material. It can't be much fun trying to finesse the stilted speech patterns and repartee supplied by screenwriter Jack B. Sowards. The old campaigners hold up their end and Montalban gets some campy mileage out of Khan's barbarian get-up and flowing tresses, though not quite as much as James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom in "Conan." As a Vulcan space cadet named Saavik, Kirstie Alley adds a touch of exotic-featured, deadpan allure.
The kicker in the story is supposed to be the demise of Mr. Spock, who sacrifices himself to save his comrades. It seems an unnecessary twist and the filmmakers are obviously well-prepared to fudge in case the public demands another sequel. Spock may be packed away in a coffin, but since it rests in a sylvan glade on one of Dr. Marcus' newly created paradises, resurrection appears to be a mere formality.