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Dune: Part Two Review

March 1, 2024 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Dune: Part Two Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
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Dune: Part Two Review  

Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Written By: Denis Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts; Based on Frank Herbert’s Dune
Runtime: 166 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some suggestive material and brief strong language.

Timothée Chalamet – Paul/Muad’Dib Atreides
Zendaya – Chani
Austin Butler – Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen
Rebeca Ferguson – Lady Jessica
Javier Bardem – Stilgar
Josh Brolin – Gurney Halleck
Florence Pugh – Princess Irulan
Dave Bautista – Glossu Rabban Harkonnen
Stellan Skarsgård – Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
Christopher Walken – Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV
Charlotte Rampling – Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam
Léa Seydoux – Lady Margot Fenring
Babs Olusanmokun – Jamis

“To begin your study of the life of Muad’Dib, then, take care that you first place him in his time: born in the 57th year of the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV. And take the most special care that you locate Muad’Dib in his place: the planet Arrakis. Do not be deceived by the fact that he was born on Caladan and lived his first fifteen years there. Arrakis, the planet known as Dune, is forever his place.”

– From “Manual of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan; Taken from Dune by Frank Herbert

Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve continues his vision of the seminal sci-fi saga, Dune. Dune Part Two continues almost immediately from the end of the previous film where Villeneuve and co-writer Jon Spaihts conclude their adaptation of the original novel in Herbert’s epic storyline. Much like the film film, Dune Part Two is a pure, grand sci-fi spectacle, but it’s not devoid of problems in narrative execution.

After the events of the previous film, Duke Leto Atreides fell prey to an elaborate conspiracy concocted by his mortal enemy, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Skarsgård), and the galactic Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV (Walken). Evading Harkonnen capture, Duke Leto’s son, Paul Atreides (Chalamet, and Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica (Ferguson), manage to survive the Harkonnen’s siege on Arrakis. With nowhere else to turn, they seek refuge among planet Arrakis’ native people, the Fremen, who suffered more than most under the House Harkonnen’s previous rule over their world. The Fremen engage in guerrilla warfare and raids against their interstellar oppressors, who seek to mine Arrakis as it is the galaxy’s source of the spice melange, aka “Spice,” which makes all interstellar space travel and trade possible.

The Fremen are formidable warriors albeit deeply religious and superstitious people. They are also scattered and divisive among Arrakis’ hemispheres. By many of their old traditions, they are waiting for a messiah, a “Madhi,” to unite them and lead them to victory against their oppressors and transform Arrakis into the lush, green paradise of the past. Paul wants to join the Fremen in their fight as they have a common enemy, and he seeks revenge for the death of his father. He builds camaraderie among the tribe’s ranks and falls in love with one of their most valued warriors, Chani (Zendaya). Paul’s exposure to the “Spice,” grants him an eerie prescience and visions of slaughter. Thanks to the calculated actions of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, and Paul’s mother exploiting the volatile beliefs of the Fremen, Paul becomes poised to assume the role of the people’s prophesied savior. Acceptance of the role could provide the key to Paul’s revenge and the survival of his lineage, but such a choice runs the risk of sparking a new galactic-wide holy war that the universe has never seen since the Butlerian Jihad.

Dune Part Two finally takes on the main course of Frank Herbert’s book. While both parts adapt a single novel, Villeneuve moved entire characters and concepts to only introduce them in Part Two, including the brutal Harkonnen heir, Feyd-Rautha (Butler). Feyd-Rautha assumes the role of Arrakis’ new overseer due to the constant failures of his older brother, Glossu Rabban (Bautista), to stop the Fremen’s raids and guerrilla tactics. Feyd-Rautha is even more vile, brutal, and sadistic than his older brother, as he seeks to wipe out the Fremen rebels to ascend to greater heights of governance.

The omission of Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen from Part One feels like a calculated error. At least Villeneuve compensates for the past omission by adding a grand introduction for the character in Part Two. Butler makes for an entertaining villain as the ambitious, sociopathic Feyd. As a character, Feyd is completely irredeemable, but Butler imbues the role with an amusing flourish. It’s fascinating how Butler vocally matches the accent and cadence of Skarsgård as Baron Harkonnen’s voice. Although Feyd’s introduction occurs somewhat late, his presence makes up for lost time.

The plot’s departure to the Harkonnen homeworld of Giedi Prime provides a nice respite from the activities on Arrakis, providing a nice texture for the Harkonnen clan. Patrice Vermette’s production design and Jacqueline West’s costume work for this franchise have been nothing short of exceptional, but the realization of Giedi Prime defies imagination. While Dune is science fiction, it’s a vision of humanity thousands of years from now. Humanity still exists and has accepted a regressive, almost medieval form of governance, clothing and vehicular travel have evolved to a level that looks alien and unrecognizable from technology as it is now. Villeneuve and the film’s designers clearly had fun and spared no expense interpreting Herbert’s epic work. Giedi Prime is an accurate externalization of the Harkonnen nobles. The planet’s dark sun casts a blinding white light, rendering everything outside virtually colorless.

Villeneuve’s cinematic vision and respect for the source material shine in the sequence where Paul goes on his first worm ride, a rite of passage for Fremen warriors, who must prove they can tame and ride the planet’s massive sandworms, Shai-Hulud, to prove their worth. Paul’s worm-riding sequence is expertly constructed, and it looks utterly fantastic. The moment that Hans Zimmer’s score kicks in raises goosebumps.

Hans Zimmer equally deserves credit for composing some of the best music of his career for Dune. The music for the previous entry was terrific, but much like Villeneuve, Zimmer held his best work for the end. It’s difficult to explain how the score should sound for the Dune Universe, but the music Zimmer has created here is nothing short of awe-inspiring, and he’s not afraid to add a bit of rocking guitar music in select pieces.

Paul and Chani’s relationship is an aspect that has suffered the most in this adaptation, in which Villeneuve and Spaihts want to emphasize Chani more as a character and flesh out her tension and conflict with Paul. Unfortunately, Paul and Chani’s passionate and whirlwind romance becomes lost somewhere during that process. Zendaya does a decent job with what she’s given, but the choices made for Chani are frustrating. Something is missing in Chalamet and Zendaya’s chemistry, and their romance never truly takes off.

Despite the lack of chemistry with Zendaya, Chalamet delivers an incredibly layered performance as Paul, as the character begins his transition into Muad’Dib of Arrakis. Chalamet expertly captures the character’s hopes, dreams, fears, and inner conflict. He embodies Paul’s personality of a good-natured boy, forced by circumstance to grow up too soon, whose personal decisions could potentially affect the fate of billions. However, when it becomes time for Chalamet to make those difficult choices, he presents that emotional weight and inner conflict onscreen.

While about seven-eighths of Dune Part Two comprise one of the grandest, purest sci-fi spectacles ever put to screen, the last segment is anger-inducing. The movie experience ends on a highly unsatisfying note, provoking feelings of confusion and ambivalence. True, the end of Herbert’s first novel is by no means the end of the saga; but as the end of the first book, the story should still feel like a proper ending. As a result, the movie leans heavily on setups and sequel-baiting, which seem antithetical to both the original novel and Villeneuve’s philosophies as a filmmaker.

The film makes many alterations to the books. Some of the changes made throughout the two-hour and forty-six-minute runtime are understandable, if not outright preferable, compared to the book. Condensing certain events makes sense from a narrative standpoint. Nonetheless, the disappointing ending hurts the film and does not do it justice in providing a cinematic experience for one of the greatest sci-fi novels ever printed. It adds a layer of confusion for what’s next. Although the ending does not spoil the experience, the decision to pivot to this route raises more questions than answers.

Despite the flawed ending, Villeneuve has created an epic sci-fi playground here and set the stage for a grand space opera. Hopefully, the cinematic completion of Dune will play better together as a whole than the singular parts which, when considered separately, the endings are the worst parts.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Denis Villeneuve delivers a massive, epic sci-fi spectacle with Dune Part Two, expanding the world and concepts first introduced in the books by Frank Herbert. The saga of Paul Atreides and his ascent as Muad'Dib make for a compelling, exciting adventure. The acting performances are top-notch, but certain aspects suffer while fleshing out this complex universe. Specific choices in adapting the source material work understandably well. However, the movie ends on a note that creates massive feelings of ambivalence, and the conclusion feels deeply unsatisfying. Although the good Villeneuve achieves here far outweighs the bad, specific storyline decisions could have detrimental effects, depending on the direction of potential future installments.