Many thanks for sharing this with us. As the chief editor of the Naval Communications Chronicle
fanzine back in those days I can confirm that we did have exactly the same kind of discussion for a long time.
One member especially took Dr. McCoy's posture and debated endlessly the ramifications of the Genesis Device and the excessive amount of violence in the film. I met him at a convention and he was really an okay guy. What I admired was his character strength to speak out what most others, IMO, didn't want
to hear but most definitely had to
But sorry, than doesn't make the others feeling okay with what transpired on screen automatically "cooler" or "open-minded". Maybe one side had simply unrealistic expectations what a good Star Trek movie should be about while the other had no expectations and is okay with anything as long as the label "Star Trek" is attached to the product, regardless of good or bad content.
I tend to regard both TMP and TWOK to be extreme opposites and "real" Star Trek is somewhere in between (regarding TMP some deleted scenes would have helped immensely to move it closer to the middle, IMO).
Of course, "real" Star Trek is not only about inner conflict of the protagonists, but it's one of those defining elements that make TOS still watchable and enjoyable up to this day.
Kirk's second-guessing his actions, considering possibilities he screwed up, made a right turn where he should have made a left one etc. made him a believable and interesting character, one who is eager to learn, doesn't have delusions of grandure, admits to faults and listens to his real friends who don't tell him what he wants
to hear but what he needs
to hear (because real friends mean good and that's what they are for).
Which brings me to
As for the inner conflict, TWOK has it in spades, with Kirk's genuine mid-life crisis heightened by all sorts of new issues arising from the past, which puts the focus even more critically on whether he did good with those previous calls re: David and Khan.
Kirk's mid-life crisis is close to a pity party about getting old. No reflections on what he learned or didn't learn during his career. He never was a father but this theme isn't properly featured in the film because there is too much fighting going on and by the time we really get to this we have run out of screen time.
The focus may be that he is now confronted with having a son and an old adversary and both are trying to kill him. But again there's not a big deal of self-reflection, especially regarding Khan and what Kirk did (or did not do) to prevent this kind of lethal confrontation.
Indeed, big Hollywood (!) feature films may not be the proper vehicles to showcase interesting inner conflicts of the protagonists and I'd say the target audience of TWOK was the summertime moviegoers of 1982.
Kirk's "KHAN!!!" may have worked seeing the film for the first time (to convey the feeling that he is
buried alive and has no way out) but we then learn that he had a Plan B all along and his Khan yelling was really just an act to mislead Khan (and the audience).
And what is it with this last "I feel young" line?!? Admittedly Kirk had survived, but Peter Preston, Captain Terell and Spock (...) hadn't been that lucky.
Of course, "flexing his muscles" and defeating his old adversary might have been exciting, but is this all this line was about?
I enjoy watching TWOK for its fast paced action, the VFX (which still hold up) and the thrilling cat-and-mouse game him and Khan play.
But given the choice whether to keep TWOK or "Balance of Terror" I'd choose the TOS episode.
This had plenty of inner conflicts of the protagonists making it still worthwhile to rewatch and that Kirk didn't "feel young" at the end of the episode, unable to explain the Angela Martine character why it had to be her fiancee dying on their wedding day and no other member of his crew.
IMHO, this was "real" Star Trek with a credible amount of compassion, which is painfully absent in TWOK. YMMV.