Lieutenant Saavik (Kirstie Alley) is captaining the Starship Enterprise when it recieves a distress call from a craft in the Neutral Zone, where it has been agreed the Federation will not go. Disregarding this, she orders the Enterprise to go to the aid of the damaged craft, but as they near it three Klingon battle cruisers approach - there appears to be no way out of this situation as they attack... Because this is an "no-win" problem conjured up by Starfleet as a training program for its cadets. The actual past Captain of the Enterprise, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is now part of that training authority, but as it's his birthday he's feeling his age as a fresh no-win conundrum looms...
After the critical failure and perceived financial disappointment of the first adaptation of the popular television series Star Trek to the big screen, Paramount were keen for a sequel but wanted audiences to be more reminded of the original rather than plonking the familiar characters down in a restaging of 2001: A Space Odyssey. So it was that this instalment was created as a sequel not to the first film, but to a previous episode of the series, whose plotline had concerned a genetic superman type called Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban, who Kirk had abandoned on a verdant planet to get rid of him, but also to provide Khan with the home he wished for his people.
Yet one of the themes of Star Trek II is how the past echoes down time into the future, and Kirk, not having thought about his old adversary in years, finds that the opposite has not been true when the U.S.S. Reliant arrives at the planet they believe is a possible site for the new and top secret Genesis device. However, this is not the planet they thought it was as that one was destroyed, and Khan's new home was reduced to rubble and hurricane force storms, something he has been understandably put out about. Now he wants two things: Genesis and vengeance upon Kirk, so how fortuitous that he should be heading a training mission nearby when Khan takes over the Reliant and sends out a message to draw him into his web.
A lot of people at the time saw this as far lighter and more fun than its predecessor, but the odd lighthearted quip aside, it's actually surprisingly downbeat, a grim mood underlined by the fact that nobody feels like turning many lights on. This gives the inevitable battle the look of an old World War II submarine movie, especially with the red alert bathing everything in a scarlet glow. What with Kirk worrying about getting old, a feud he could have done without doing damage to the younger generation who could well have prospered without it, and the eventual recognition that you will lose your friends, the drawbacks of age seem to the main concern on this film's mind.
Which would have been far more resonant if you had the sense that the old crew of the Enterprise had any intention of giving up their vice-like grip on the franchise: this was still five years away from the Next Generation making their debut on television. But the whole film is geared towards keeping that franchise going, so much so that even the supposedly tragic ending is undercut by its determination to set up the sequel. It's not all bad, as Montalban seizes his chances to make what many outside of the hardcore fans would have been pressed to recall into one of the best villains Star Trek ever had - such a shame that Khan and Kirk never meet face to face here. Elsewhere, Kirk's coming to terms with his family seems more of an afterthought when we never get to know them past some perfunctory personality traits, so it's mainly the well-staged action and the great Montalban who provide the diversions. Music by James Horner.