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'Dune: Part Two' Review

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February 21, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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In my review of Dune, I said that the film “was an odd case of style over substance, in that the substance is there but intentionally left out for next time. It’s a gamble that may pay off once Part Two is released.” Well, that next time has come, and so has the cast of the die as part of that gamble. Luckily for me, those pangs of disappointment that clawed at my cinematic soul in 2021 are nowhere to be found in 2024, as Denis Villeneuve’s conclusion to Frank Herbert’s 1965 groundbreaking novel might be one of the best science-fiction films of the modern era.

And it’s not just me that thinks this sequel far surpasses its predecessor. Speaking at a South Korean press conference in December, Villeneuve said “For me, this film is much better than Part One… There’s something more alive in it. There’s a relationship to the characters. I was trying to reach for an intensity and a quality of emotions that I didn’t reach with Part One and that I did reach with Part Two.” The French-Canadian filmmaker wasn’t lying with that statement, as this latter entry is no longer a desert of humanity, but an oasis of philosophy and hard-earned emotion.

“Power over spice is power over all” blares over the black screen before the studio credits fade in. Along with being a bold and instant attention grabber, it’s a startling reminder of what the political dynamics are on the planet of Arrakis. The Harkonnen family still rule with an iron fist, but enough disturbances to the spice production by the Fremen have tested the patience of Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken). Just as the battles rage on across the desert, so do they within the mind of Paul (Timothée Chalamet). Visions of death and destruction still ravage his dreams, with the unfolding event pushing the inevitable closer and closer.

There’s also infighting within the Fremen, with the prophecy of Paul ascending to be their messiah being met with hostility amongst the younger members who would wish the Fremen to be led through a democracy comprised of its own people. Paul doesn’t know his place either. How can he be a savior for a threat he’s partially to blame for? No matter what he does, other people and the world itself make choices that lead him closer to the point of no return.

Villeneuve and returning co-writer Jon Spaihts may have lost industry legend Eric Roth from their team for this sequel, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost a step when it comes to wrestling with Herbert’s material. Every moment, from the biggest of setpieces to the smallest of character moments, is given an incredible amount of weight and importance. The dialogue is just as action-packed as the action itself, with the introduction of a deeper roster of characters building to that feeling of grandiosity. Austin Butler plays the psychotic bald albino Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen with devilish delight. Florence Pugh, Léa Seydoux, and Walken add gravitas to their scenes of imperial intrigue.

I was reminded of James Cameron’s Avatar and Matt Reeves’ 2022 adaptation of The Batman several times while watching this. Similar to those properties, this is inherently silly material when you take a step back and look at everything on the surface level. There are giant sandworms, magic dust that fuels spaceships, and people flying around in jetpacks. One only has to look at David Lynch’s 1984 version to know that this story can be tonally jarring. But everything here is told with such care and respect that you immediately buy into all of it. Each new development is riveting, with the interactions between the returning characters being more potent thanks to the groundwork already laid. Chalamet and Zendaya’s romance blossoms over time, as does the plot over Paul’s prophecy by Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and Stilgar (Javier Bardem).

For all its meditative qualities, there are still several moments for Villeneuve to show off his brawn as a filmmaker. Chaos is often met with chaos as the action is more bombastic this time around; with rockets, lasers, and tips of knives being readily exchanged. The returning crew of Oscar winners includes cinematographer Greig Fraser, composer Hans Zimmer, editor Joe Walker, production designer Patrice Vermette, and costume designer Jacqueline West. Each does their part to increase the scale from the already gargantuan first part. It would come as no surprise if they’re all Oscar-nominated again, with a few potentially grabbing a second trophy.

Just as he did with Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve has accomplished what has long been thought to be impossible with Dune: Part Two. There’s no doubt that fans of the 2021 film will be overjoyed with what’s served here, and that previous detractors such as myself will be won over by the improved scale and direction of the saga. Fear is the mind-killer to all those on Arrakis. But there is no fear for those of us on Earth, as one of the best films of 2024 and of the science-fiction genre has been bestowed upon us.

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