‘Dune: Part Two’ Review: Join It And Flow With It

User Rating: 9

The most radical thing about director Denis Villeneuve’s handling of Dune is how accessible he’s managed to make it. We may never have a proper idea of how well ‘Part One’ may have done sans its simultaneous theatrical and home release due to Covid. Still, its various accolades (including six Oscars) and the visible anticipation I’ve seen for this sequel make it clear that Frank Herbert’s famously dense novel has been adapted in a manner fitting for those seeking a respectable and approachable sci-fi epic. This is what Dune: Part Two also delivers – blockbuster filmmaking at its finest. With a more action-packed story, big movie star performances, and astonishing visuals, there’s so much accomplished here that stems from the confidence of the filmmakers involved and their trust in the audience’s willingness to dive even deeper into the world of Arrakis.

Being a true ‘Part Two,’ this film picks up where we last left things with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet). He’s now the exiled Duke of House Atreides, as he and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), were forced to unite with the Fremen who live in the dangerous but spice-enriched deserts of Arrakis. Fortunately for Paul, Javier Bardem’s Stilgar, leader of one of the Fremen tribes, believes the young Duke to be their messiah, the Muad’Dib.

As Paul becomes more accustomed to the Fremen life, including mastering the skill of riding the giant sandworms and developing a relationship with the woman he had seen in his dreams, Chani (Zendaya), The evil House Harkonnen is not content with their takedown of House Atreides. They are now looking to conquer the rest of planet Arrakis, including taking down the one known as Muad’Dib, responsible for leading attacks on Harkonnen soldiers and stopping spice harvesting.

See Also: ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ Review: Arthur, Orm, and an Octopus Too

Perhaps more summary than necessary, but you must understand that there are a lot of moving parts involved (I haven’t even discussed the religious angles tied to Lady Jessica or the wicked heavy, Feyd-Ruatha, played with slimy delight by Austin Butler). Does that mean the casual viewer may be a bit lost wandering into Dune: Part Two without seeing the previous film or maybe only having a partial memory of what the first film offered? Perhaps, but if there’s an expectation of seeing a previous excellent movie to get the most out of an equally terrific (if not better) follow-up, so be it.

If anything, however, some streamlining has occurred to have this film’s narrative flow as cleanly as it does. Having removed various players from the board, the movie can focus more clearly on Paul as the story’s lead character. Yes, we have subplots to consider and the introduction of new characters, but the world-building is more rooted in what we are experiencing from one character’s point of view.

With that in mind, I again have to praise Chalamet for commanding the screen the way he does. Paul Atreides could easily land as a bland role used to shuffle us toward the more interesting characters, but there’s enough specificity for the actor to play into that allows us to respond favorably to his interactions, whether it’s with Zendaya’s equally strong Chani, or how he stands up the various elders who are either with or against him. Plus, any actor who gets the opportunity to lead us through a whole ordeal involving jumping onto the backs of sandworms and figuring out how to properly ride it goes a long way for me. As one who is happy to appreciate contemplative sci-fi stories and the depiction of massive creatures, this movie knows how to satisfy my interests.

Among the returning cast members, Bardem gets more of a chance to shine this time around. Once you’re cool with the Fremen, Stilgar is apparently very happy to let his guard down, which lets Bardem occupy a mentor role that injects a decent amount of levity and gravitas in a scenario where waxing poetically or seriously about sand is a status quo. Meanwhile, Josh Brolin somehow combines world-weariness with warmth, allowing Paul another reliable comrade. On the other side, watching Dave Bautista and Stellan Skarsgård become more unhinged as villainous Harkonnen provides the film with adversaries you just know will be satisfyingly dispatched.

The new additions also find their footing in this expansive universe, with particular praise going to the always welcome Christopher Walken as Emperor Shaddam IV and Butler’s ruthless warrior. With Walken, it’s not like he has to do much here, but there’s a presence that’s very welcome to see on screen, as he underplays the emotion of a man driven purely by power, with conflicting support from his daughter, played by Florence Pugh. Butler, on the other hand, is a total rock star in how he handles a fierce fighter willing to cut the throat of anyone around him, whether by necessity or for amusement. Accompanied by some of the film’s more creative cinematography approaches, while the film may linger on what kind of hero Paul is, there’s no mistaking the pure dark evil that someone like Butler’s Feyd-Rutha represents.

Looking at the filmmaking as a whole, there’s no reason to expect less than what was delivered the first time around. Shot for IMAX, including 70 mm sections, Dune: Part Two looks and feels like a huge movie. The sense of scale is tremendous, even without losing sight of those who matter. Greig Fraser’s work to capture the details of the planet Arrakis at various times of day, what other homeworlds look like, what it means to see Fremen and Harkonnen in battle with each other, and more, all do so much to visualize this story in an exceptional manner akin to what some of the best sci-fi films have to offer.

Hans Zimmer once again brings in the unique ideas that made his first Dune score stand out in his prolific, generally great (and also somewhat familiar) catalog. Much like the notion of creating languages and writing for films like this, which extends from ideas found in and expanded on what’s been conceived in the past, Zimmer is finding auditorily arresting ways to build anthems, ideas, and motifs from various instruments and unusual tools to match ambition taken to create the depiction of this universe.

As a sequel that needs to respond to what the previous film served up story-wise, I could say there’s a certain inevitability to what’s taking place that, on the surface, could take away from the suspense of what’s to occur. However, I think that’s an easy way out of exploring what’s actually present here. From a plot standpoint, the aims are never unclear or feel as if they are threatened from occurring how they do. Still, with so many characters, it’s easy to be unsure who will arrive at the finish line, let alone how they do it. Moreover, Villeneuve frankly makes it a lot of fun to see how this all occurs.

Dune: Part Two has the benefit of already having many character introductions and the understanding of allegiances out of the way, meaning the action arrives a lot faster (and furiouser). Now, it’s not as if I wasn’t on board with the previous film for being more meditative (again, I like both films about the same), but if one film was merely teasing the existence of sandworms, you better believe that a movie focused on how Paul Atreides and the Fremen get back at the Harkonnen means a lot more visceral fun that ranges from sandworm attacks to large scale dagger/knife fights to guerrilla warfare. This is a sci-fi blockbuster, after all, and committing to providing a certain kind of entertainment with such a large scale in mind means getting down to business pretty frequently and quite satisfyingly.

With that in mind, while exploring the more psychedelic side of the material was never going to match whatever Alejandro Jodorowsky had in mind for his proposed Dune film from the 70s, it’s not as though Villeneuve is uninterested in what implications there are to what Paul represents, the conflict seen within the Fremen (and the film’s own battle with recognizing implicit notions of appropriation and other potential landmines), and the extent to which we can connect with the Bene Gesserit characters (the spiritual/superpowered ones) portrayed by Ferguson, Charlotte Rampling, and Léa Seydoux, among others. Without getting into it further, it excites me to know there’s more to think about in regards to what else the film is after here, let alone the potential there is to realize these aspects even further down the line.

There is so much to praise about Dune: Part Two in the sort of way that allows me to feel immense relief after such skepticism in adapting this story. Not that I didn’t think Villeneuve and his team, including co-writer Jon Spaihts, didn’t have it in them, but watching this lengthy 165-minute film unfold and continually finding myself intrigued, excited, and curious about where it was going next is a true accomplishment. Having the means to deliver a top-quality experience for a story that means a lot to many people while skillfully bringing in a new audience is certainly worth admiring as well. Whether or not I make it back to Arrakis anytime soon, just know that this is undoubtedly one of the high points for the genre in recent years. It’s well worth taking in the desert power on display and flowing with it.

Dune: Part Two opens in theaters and IMAX on March 1, 2024.

9
Amazing
Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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