Credit: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.
Blockbuster Beat by Matt Lynch Featured Film

Dune: Part Two — Denis Villeneuve

February 26, 2024

We return to the year 10,191 for Dune: Part Two, the cleverly named second half of Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal, beloved work of sci-fi literature. When last we saw Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), he’d survived an otherwise completely successful ambush attack on his family’s rule of the valuable desert planet Arrakis — the only place where the most valuable thing in the universe, a psychotropic substance known as the Spice Melange, is found — by sworn enemies the Harkonnens, which wiped out his entire clan and all of its troops. Paul escaped into the sand and took refuge with the planet’s native people, the Fremen, who adapted to Arrakis’ harsh conditions. And if you remember, Paul’s mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who escaped with him, is part of a vast intergalactic religious sect whose eugenics programs and psychic powers have potentially come together to ensure that Paul is the prophesied Kwisatz Haderach, a super-being who will dominate the universe. Whether or not that’s true (spoiler: of course it is), Jessica is all too happy to encourage this belief among the Fremen, while Paul struggles with this potentially disastrous destiny even while he wields it as a weapon to control and use the Fremen to get revenge on his enemies and take back control of Arrakis. Got all that?

Villeneuve’s first installment may indeed have been a marvel of adaptation, making the most of Herbert’s somewhat lugubrious prose and meticulous details by making them key ingredients of the film’s intense, gorgeous brutalist production design, and also by being generously faithful to the source. But it was still just half of a movie, ending rather anticlimactically smack in the middle of the story. All that world-building and setup has paid off handsomely here, though, as Dune: Part Two hits the ground running, managing to give the novel’s allegorical pawn characters more grounded emotional stakes while also ramping up the massive spectacles of combat and design. It seems like every new sequence delivers some eye-popping visual element or arresting image: baddies gracefully floating via jetpacks, giant sandworms, a stark black-and-white world of sadomasochism and torture, massive spaceships, nuclear explosions — it’s all here, filmed entirely in the IMAX format, with none of that switching aspect ratios stuff, necessary as it is to be seen big and loud.

On a more intimate scale, Chalamet also is given the opportunity to lend Paul more dimension in this installment. Where there was once an impetuous, often naïve and overwhelmed teenager, now there’s a young man forced into making decisions that will affect not just his closest confidants but possibly every living thing in the universe. What’s more, his premonitions virtually guarantee that, whatever choice he makes, billions and billions of people will die. Herbert’s character has been often misdiagnosed as a White Savior, but the movie couldn’t be more clear about the dangers intrinsic to Paul’s power. His clashes with Ferguson in Part Two are genuinely prickly, laced with a sick tension. Their actual chemistry, unfortunately, has the effect of dulling Paul’s romance with Fremen woman Chani (Zendaya), which is built on scenes with two actors that lend more the impression of best friends in high school. Chani is thankfully given a much more sturdy and developed foundation here than in the novel, as she realizes Paul to be yet another colonizer despite his good intentions; Zendaya plays up her anger and mistrust quite effectively, but stumbles when it comes to selling their love story.

Elsewhere, and probably having the most fun, are Dave Bautista as Rabban, a nephew to the big bad Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), and the hilarious Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha, another Harkonnen nephew with a Nosferatu-esque appearance and Skarsgard-like voice — this duo constitute easily the most purely delightful slice of the film. Feyd in particular given to fucking, killing, and eating, usually all the same person. Make no mistake: Dune: Part Two is nothing if not appreciably bonkers. Which, working in aggregate with the film’s other strengths, makes for pretty unparalleled stuff so far as giant-budget spectacles go. Not since the Lord of the Rings movies has there been something this committed to its singular vision, this brash, and this handsome. In a time where we’re ceding the ground of what’s being called Cinema For Grownups to either meme-able predigested politics like Barbie or the three-hour tedium that is Oppenheimer, it’s refreshing to see something this dense, this overwhelmingly strange, and this sincerely pulpy and exciting. Bring on Part Three.

DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve;  CAST: Timothée Chalamet, Zandaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh;  DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros.;  IN THEATERS: March 1;  RUNTIME: 2 hr. 46 min.