Dune: Part Two

Featuring commanding performances by Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya and Austin Butler, Denis Villeneuve's soaring sequel to his 2021 Oscar-winner is another stunning big-screen achievement.
Sarah Ward
Published on February 29, 2024


Revenge is a dish best served sandy in Dune: Part Two. On the desert planet of Arrakis, where golden hills as far as the eye can see are shaped from the most-coveted and -psychedelic substance in author Frank Herbert's estimation, there's no other way. Vengeance is just one course on Paul Atreides' (Timothée Chalamet, Wonka) menu, however. Pop culture's supreme spice boy, heir to the stewardship of his adopted realm, has a prophecy to fulfil whether he likes it or not; propaganda to navigate, especially about him being the messiah; and an Indigenous population, the Fremen, to prove himself to. So mines Denis Villeneuve's soaring sequel to 2021's Dune, which continues exploring the costs and consequences of relentless quests for power — plus the justifications, compromises, tragedies and narratives that are inescapable in such pursuits. The filmmaker crafts his fourth contemplative and breathtaking sci-fi movie in a row, then, after Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 as well.

The vast arid expanse that constantly pervades the frames in Dune: Part Two isn't solely a stunning sight. It looks spectacular, as the entire feature does, with Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser (The Creator) back after winning an Oscar for the first Dune; but as Paul, his widowed mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson, Silo), and Fremen Stilgar (Javier Bardem, The Little Mermaid) and Chani (Zendaya, Euphoria) traverse it, it helps carve in some of this page-to-screen saga's fundamental ideas. So does the stark monochrome when the film jumps to Giedi Prime, home world to House Harkonnen, House Atreides' enemy, plus Arrakis' ruler both before and after Paul's dad Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse) got the gig in Villeneuve's initial Dune. People here are dwarfed not only by their mammoth surroundings, but by the bigger, broader, non-stop push for supremacy. While there's no shortage of detail in both Part One and Part Two — emotional, thematic and visual alike — there's also no avoiding that battling against being mere pawns in an intergalactic game of chess is another of its characters' complicated fights.

When the tales that Herbert started penning almost six decades ago — the first Dune book hit shelves in 1965 — made their 2020s-era cinema debut, it was by splitting the writer's introductory trip to Arrakis in half. As the film's title card made plain, Villeneuve always hoped-slash-planned that a second movie would follow. It was a savvy gamble, and it's still paying off. Even in just the opening recent Dune flick (David Lynch got there first in the 80s), breaking the 896-leaf text in two for cinema allowed the story's intricacies to unfurl unhurried. It also ensured that its figures gained flesh and complexity beyond propelling the plot. Crucial to Villeneuve's take on Dune, and to his work in general, is seeing and feeling the minutiae; Paul's path and inner conflict, and Chani's reaction to it in particular, wouldn't cut as deeply otherwise. Without personal stakes, neither would the overall narrative, with its musing on what it means to seek command and dominance — or perhaps shirk it — as well as the resulting ripple effects.

House Atreides' move from the lush, ocean-filled Caladan to Arrakis fuelled Part One. Relocating came via decree, not choice — and the bloodthirsty Harkonnens, led by Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgård, Andor) with his brutish nephew Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) doing his bidding, were about as happy with the change in planetary control as expected of their usual vicious demeanour. Before the movie was out, management had reverted back by force, leaving Paul and Jessica in hiding after House Atreides was betrayed and decimated. As scripted by its director with the also-returning Jon Spaihts (The Mummy), that's where Dune: Part Two picks up, with many Fremen still wary of aiding the two outlanders. But Stilgar is unwavering in his certainty that the new saviour that's been heralded for generations — the Lisan al Gaib, as incited by the Bene Gesserit, a string-pulling sisterhood sect — is Paul.

Although 1998 album You've Come a Long Way Baby doesn't contain Fatboy Slim's overt reference to Dune, aka 'Weapon of Choice' with its "walk without rhythm and it won't attract the worm" lines, that record's moniker does describe Paul's journey throughout Dune: Part Two. Also, while Hans Zimmer (Top Gun: Maverick) is on score duties again, commandingly so, thinking about 'Weapon of Choice' is unavoidable when Villeneuve has added Christopher Walken (Severance) to the cast as Emperor Shaddam IV. So, as the House Corrino head and leader of the known universe believes that the Atreides bloodline has been vanquished — daughter Princess Irulen (Florence Pugh, Oppenheimer) isn't as confident — Paul trains to be one of the Fremen's guerrilla-esque Fedaykin fighters. He conquers riding sandworms like chariots, and also Chani's heart, even as she's unfailing in her contention that a messiah is another form of dictator and promising one is purely a method of subjugation. Wresting back Arrakis from the Harkonnen, partly by sabotaging their spice-mining operations, is one of Paul's aims. Again, revenge over his slain father is another.

Dune: Part Two makes its time with the Fremen, both in the desert and in cave cities, so rich and textured and human that its departures elsewhere are jarring. That's by immaculate and meticulous design, of course, with the aforementioned shift from Arrakis to Giedi Prime — where the twisted Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler, Elvis) is another nephew to the Baron, and even more savage and ruthless, especially in a helluva unsettling yet entrancing gladiatorial scene — proving especially impactful. The two settings are desolate in their own ways, but there's no trace of warmth or hope in the black-and-white realm where the Harkonnens only know callousness. As the Bene Gesserit, via Jessica, her superior Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling, Benedetta) and the resourceful Lady Margot Fenring (Léa Seydoux, Crimes of the Future), keep trying to bend the galaxy to the matriarchal group's will, grappling with power is a desolate endeavour, too. In a telling that earns its 166-minute length due to its sheer weight, through being so nimble in laying out its story and anchoring more possible chapters (there's another five Herbert novels, and others on top since his death), Paul's is a tale of being haunted by his role, future and its implications.

Unsurprisingly for a film where dialogue is not just spoken aloud but also communicated telepathically, there's a compelling interiority to Chalamet's second Dune turn. It's pitch-perfect, and in line with everything that Paul is wrestling with; he's equally excellent in action-hero mode in crisply staged and shot heists and frays, doing the Benjamin Millepied (Carmen)-choreographed sandwalk, giving rousing speeches, being plagued by visions and swooning amid the spice with Zendaya's Chani. In one of her best performances yet, she's the second of the feature's standouts and its emotional centre. Every feeling that's pumping through Chani's veins, from love and dedication to skepticism and disappointment, the audience experiences as well. The third: Butler's ferocious effort, which gets everyone shaking in a far different manner to his Academy Award-nominated stint as the king of rock 'n' roll. Indeed, with portrayals this potent, and everything seen and heard matching — the feature's technical feats are again impeccable and astounding — Dune: Part Two leaves its viewers saying thank you, thank you very much not only to this grand marvel and its predecessor, but to the potential for more spiciness to come.


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