Movie Review: Dune – Part Two

One-liner: A mesmerisingly artful, brooding, spirited, surreal, stellar and spectacular sci-fi action adventure drama sequel of the highest order.

Dune: Part Two is the long-awaited sequel to Dune: Part One, an epic sci-fi odyssey based on the celebrated novel by Frank Herbert, adapted to film by Denis Villeneuve. While many have tried to summit ‘Dune’, none have managed to navigate their way to the top – until recently. One of its most famous attempts is David Lynch’s Dune starring Kyle MacLachlan in 1984. A cult classic now, the sci-fi epic is a messy yet beautiful affair that was bogged down by a scrap for creative control and on-going producer-director politics. Then, Jodorowsky’s grand attempt just didn’t get off the ground after being weighed down by years of development hell and an incrementally impossible budget.

Having developed a stigma in terms of its development and translation to screen, one of the major advantages of pulling off a film of this scale is the advances of CGI. It’s the reason John Boorman decided to create Excalibur rather than aiming for the lofty heights of adapting ‘Lord of the Rings’ in the 1980s. Yet, by the turn of the millennium, Peter Jackson felt it was the right time to give J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ the trilogy it deserved. This confidence in visual effects technology has advanced further still and has enabled the film event that is now Dune, which will undoubtedly draw comparisons with Jackson’s majestic fantasy.

It’s in this spirit that director Denis Villeneuve decided that he was up to the task. Before he took to the desolate planet, the visionary director prepared the way with sci-fi epics, the elegant Arrival and a tricky Blade Runner sequel. A dark horse turned beloved sci-fi property, Blade Runner took weeks to generate buzz and in a similar fashion received a sequel decades after the original with Harrison Ford reprising his role. While a visual masterpiece partly thanks to the work of Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049 had its problems – something Villeneuve has admitted more recently. Perhaps it was cutting his teeth on this Blade Runner sequel that prepared him to mount the adaptation of ‘Dune’.

Now that the sequel has arrived, it’s clear that Dune: Part One was no fluke. This was already established by Villeneuve’s pristine filmography and reputation as a contemporary great but the curse of the adaptation lingers. Priming viewers for a third film in the series based on ‘Dune Messiah’, the auteur has written a third script for the would-be Dune: Part Three but is aware of how “esoteric” the ‘Dune’ story becomes, making him wary of the potential challenges.

While it’s been over two years since Dune: Part One landed in cinemas, there’s no “the story so far…” or spoon-feeding in Dune: Part Two, making it a good idea to rewatch Part One if it’s a bit blurry. You’ll be able to pick up the pieces soon enough with echoes from the first film as viewers are airdropped into the middle of the action as Paul Atreides and his mother Lady Jessica ingratiate themselves, now important outsiders among the Fremen. In this action-packed, spectacular and visceral sequel, Atreides and Chani’s bonds deepen as he seeks revenge against those who destroyed his family. Taking his place as foretold in the prophecy, Paul struggles with the weight of responsibility and recurring premonitions that seem linked to the fate of the universe. Forced to choose between heart and mind, love and destiny, Dune: Part Two finds its young hero and his people on the cusp of war.

dune part two movie

“Made it ma! Top of the world!”

Dune: Part One was a star-studded epic with Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Florence Pugh, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista and Charlotte Rampling reprising their roles for the sequel. As if it wasn’t stellar enough, Austin Butler, Léa Seydoux and Christopher Walken strengthen the cast even further, making it a firm contender when the Academy Awards begin to recognise casting as an awards category. A tale about royalty, the cast led by Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya headline Hollywood’s next generation of stars with Florence Pugh, Léa Seydoux and Austin Butler in the wings.

Timothée Chalamet is a perfect herald for Dune, losing himself to his characters and doing so with aplomb. Having played young Henry V in The King, it’s not all that strange to see Chalamet rising to meet the prophecy as Paul Atreides. Zendaya’s spirited performance as Chani is welcome as Paul’s confidante and supporter within the Fremen. Rebecca Ferguson sinks into Lady Jessica’s plight in a descent that could’ve warranted a spin-off film of its own. Javier Bardem attempts to capture the charming pluck of Toshiro Mifune’s performance in The Seven Samurai while Austin Butler sheds his Elvis skin for a menacing and unrecognisable turn as Feyd-Rautha. Stellan Skarsgård and Charlotte Rampling continue their dark shroud as Christopher Walken and Léa Seydoux add their own mystique to the sequel while Josh Brolin and Dave Bautista stoke the fire and fury.

As you’d expect from anyone in a Villeneuve film, they’re there because they want to be, getting the chance to work with a director who’s already counted among the greats. It’s in this spirit that they’re fully committed to their relentless performances, each wanting to honour roles that have been written with an added degree of thought, complexity and texture. In spite of veering toward spectacle, the dialogue is substantial and the characters are well-rounded, complemented by nuanced and headstrong performances, which echo the determination and grit of the filmmaking, showing complete faith in the vision.

The quieter and intimate moments offer a strong contrast to the epic scale of the picture, moving from monolithic scenes to the minutia of conversations. Yet, somehow it’s seamless as the edit effortlessly glides from one mesmerising scene to the next. Keeping a good pace, there’s a ruthless efficiency at play, ensuring nothing’s wasted and lulls are intentional. Villeneuve is known for directing films with a dark surreal edge and Dune: Part Two leans even more into the oil slick of Dune: Part One. Taking on a Spider-Man 2 quality, our hero becomes burdened with expectations and inner turmoil as Dune: Part Two plays out against a much grander backdrop with universal consequences.

At almost 3 hours, Dune: Part Two is intoxicatingly immersive, creating visceral audio and captivating visuals so well that each could probably work in a standalone capacity. Watching the Dune sequel in the comfort of an IMAX cinema makes the experience even more impactful living up to their desire to make you feel like you’re part of the movie. From the crystal clear picture to sound that reverberates right through you, IMAX enhances the movie-going experience and makes it impossible to do anything but pay attention.

Dune: Part Two is an epic, dark and majestic sci-fi action adventure odyssey of the highest order. A true spectacle that immerses you in its world and struggle, the film’s artful eye and dedication to elegance adds another visual dimension. From first-rate visual effects, creative wardrobe, lifelike makeup and beautiful locations to exquisite props and production design, every aspect has been crafted with an appetite for perfection. This conviction and precision is echoed in the film’s performances, sound design, score and technical agility making it difficult to fault.

While this titanic sequel may be too nightmarish and long for some, it offers a rare opportunity for a film to delve into its own culture and religious mindscape, making some curious and timely parallels with the here and now. As complex as the narrative becomes, it’s equally surprising how accessible the film remains, driven by its mystic themes and compelled by masterful film-making. Giving its cast ample time to shine whilst holding onto its sight and sound ambitions, Dune: Part Two taps into stirring human emotion and freely experiments without ever feeling out of line or touch. Performing as a driving action adventure and an enigmatic sci-fi drama, the artful, elegant, mesmerising and spectacular Dune: Part Two somehow manages to throw a tent over it all.

The bottom line: Mesmerising