1. The Motion Picture Constituted an Epic Fail.
The first Star Trek movie was not good. Sufficed to say, there were too many new characters, too little worthy dialogue, and an overemphasis on cinematography. The script took over half of the movie just to get to the major threat that was going to blow up Earth that time. Even when they got to the energy cloud, and discovered the massive alien ship enveloped within it, they only managed to discover that it was controlled by a nigh omnipotent being that thought machines were alive and biological beings were not alive.
"Why did we even agree to make this movie?" "I'm a doctor, not a movie critic Jim!"
After the confusing (and rather unnecessary) interpersonal conflict between Kirk and Decker, the death of a character we didn’t care about until she came back as an alien probe, and Spock’s emo phase after having failed his Ph.D. in Vulcan studies, we are left to discover that the mysterious V’Ger is nothing more than your garden variety NASA probe, Pioneer X’s cousin. Which threatens to destroy Earth, and then leaves without giving us so much as a shred of the information it gathered in its quest to become omniscient. But the Wrath of Khan is much much better…
2. An Egomaniacal Genetically Engineered Indian Warlord From the Nineties Makes a Dang Good Villain.
He has it all. The brains, the brawn, the gray hair, the accent, the raggedly clad band of followers. Not only that, but he has a pet slug that will eat out the inside of your brains and turn you into a zombie. And as far as his motivation, there is nothing more compelling: having been woken up from his slumber this walking hunk of Ricardo Montalban had been encountered by the Enterprise in the original series, and attempted to hijack the Federation’s Flagship, albeit unsuccessfully. But he managed to get a traitorous Starfleet officer to become his wife, so it wasn’t all that bad. Fast forward fifteen years and the now gray haired intimidator is bitter because his wife got killed due to climate changes as a result of an unfortunate astronomical event. So, his anger (read Wrath) is both unjustified and ill-directed, straight at the person of Admiral James Tiberius Kirk.
"I am, literally, so awesome.""
Also, as far as monologues, Khan is more bearable than the majority of his counterparts. When he speaks to Kirk after having shot up his pretty little ship, he only gives him a minute to live, and almost manages to get information on a weapon of mass destruction in the process. While he was outwitted by the Spock-Kirk combination, it isn’t beyond the realm of reason. When combining the luck and skill of that combination even Khan could be expected to lose a fight with a surprise advantage.
"I'm still so awesome. Check out my pecs."
Overall, Khan is muscular and mad (describing both his emotional and mental states), armed with a weapon of mass destruction and obsessive. Perfect combination for a villain.
3. Kirstie Alley from 1982.
This is no offense to Kirstie Alley, but the Wrath of Khan is probably the best that she has looked in a movie. And that is no surprise, considering that it was her debut into the movie world. I don’t think I’ll understand why she didn’t reprise the role in the third movie, but she played the part pretty well in the Wrath of Khan. But alas, it was on to bigger things for her… like Cheers, and weight loss endorsements…
"Are you sure that uniform is standard?"
4. Weapons of Mass Creation.
The Genesis Device is perhaps the best plot element introduced in the Star Trek movies. It was created by Federation scientists, but Khan (and later the Klingons) would have it used against the Federation. What is really great about the Genesis Device is that it showcases the all-in-one package of mass destruction and creation. A little computer animation and… TADA! No major orbital bombardment necessary, just a jungle planet built from the re-ordered molecules of all your worst enemies. Although insta-terraforming is a great idea, the scientists Marcus don’t really seem to think about its destructive power until the Reliant claimed dibs on the thing.
Finally, Genesis inspired great lines:
“Genesis, what’s that?” – Kirk, lying through his teeth.
“Life from lifelessness.” – Carol Marcus and Spock.
“My God man! You’re talking about universal armageddon!” – Dr. McCoy.
“According to legend the Earth was created in six days, but watch out! Now here comes Genesis, and we’ll do it in six minutes!” – Again, Dr. McCoy.
"I'm sorry I didn't think about the ramifications of planetary genocide before making this thing. My bad guys."
5. Characters Die.
And we’re not just talking about redshirts here (for background, please see this). Or the enemy cannon fodder. This is that adorable cadet you met while touring engineering, the captain of the hijacked Federation ship, the villain’s right hand man, and the protagonist’s right hand man. Yes, the Wrath of Khan is a veritable minefield for all your favorite characters. While that may pose issues for the writers of sequels (who would later develop a resurrection method for in later movies), it makes it especially thrilling in the Wrath of Khan. It no longer matters what their rank is, what color shirt they wear, or how new they are to the action. And given Khan’s propensity to dispose of human life in a cavalier manner, the likelihood that you’re going to get hit with an unexpected death is up there.
And of course, to wrap it all up, the cathartic salvation of the Enterprise in the last few scenes was made possible by, you guessed it, the sacrificial death of a main character. I could imagine hordes of trekkies walking out of the theaters in 1982 in tears, trying to figure out how they would get that character back. It must have been Star Trek’s Darth Vader-Anakin Skywalker moment (or at least its Han Solo in Carbonite moment).
Technically they aren't breaking the redshirt rule... since they're ALL wearing red shirts.
In summary, the Wrath of Khan should rock your socks off, and you should watch it. The action is intense, and the plot is riveting, and the results are astounding. Therefore, you should boldly go… to your rental store, and pick it up and watch it.
That is all.
– The Rza