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Dune: Part Two Review: Chalamet Shines, as Villeneuve Concocts a Beautiful Sandstorm of a Story

Denis Villeneuve’s lifelong dream of bringing Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 novel Dune to the big screen has become a wonderous reality, in the stunning sequel Dune: Part Two, which hits theaters on March 1.

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Dune Part Two picks right up where the 2021 film left off with Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson as his mysterious mother Lady Jessica, now embedded with the Fremen of the barren planet Arrakis, both of them delivering incredible performances, which are enough to distract from the at-times overly-compressed bulky story at the core of the proceedings.

The plot here is as thick as the stunning special effects. A devious galactic emperor (Christopher Walken) and daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) have a convoluted plot to continue their dominance over the trade of “Spice,” the material that makes intergalactic travel possible in this distant future, and which exists in abundance in the otherwise barren planet Arrakis. The plot involves exiling Paul and his family to the planet, where they are to succumb at the hands of the invading House of Harkonnen, led by the grotesque Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgard), his brutish nephew Glossu (Dave Bautista), and his other, much creepier nephew Feyd (Austin Butler).

Paul’s mother Jessica has an agenda of her own, as a member of the mysterious and religiously clad Bene Gesserit, a clan led by the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling), who, through eugenics, has plans to create a female super warrior that will supposedly bring the universe into a brighter future. At the center of this is the planet Arrakis, where terrifying creatures called “Sandworms” roam the vast deserts, and the Fremen pride themselves in conquering and riding them, empowered by the desert’s life and the blue eyes that Spice generates in them. These native peoples include cultish leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and Paul’s love interest Chani (Zendaya), fierce warriors who show Paul the ways of the desert.

Zendaya in Dune: Part 2 (Warner Bros.)

Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is Paul unwittingly at the center of it all, with his constant visions of the future, and the persistent implications that he is both the messiah that his mother Jessica disobediently created to fulfill the Bene Gesserit ambitions, as well as centuries-old prophetic tales passed along by the Fremen and their ideologically-committed members.

The only weak link in the masterful Dune Part Two is the huge leaps that the script takes at times, going from one scene to the next without always the most narrative precision. This is understandable, of course, given the bulky and convoluted source material, but it at times results in jarring tonal shifts by the characters and the film itself.

Beyond that perhaps inevitable peccadillo exists a cinematic world of stunning beauty and perfection. Fans of the craft of filmmaking must watch Villeneuve’s technical masterpiece, as the French-Canadian filmmaker reunites with his collaborators, whom netted six total Oscars three years ago, including Composer Hans Zimmer, Cinematographer Greig Fraser, and Visual Effects Supervisor Paul Lambert.

Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem in Dune: Part 2 (Warner Bros.)

Villeneuve regales in the craft of filmmaking and lets his talented crew shine and work in unison, like a perfectly-constructed ecosystem. Zimmer’s score announces itself the loudest but also the most different from the original, making it seem as if the series is entirely new. Sweeping takes and beautifully golden landscapes, at times suffused with the violent winds of sandstorms, are the next best element of this below the line cornucopia of talent. Watch this film in the biggest, loudest screen possible—you will be transfixed, and may even not necessarily notice when the plot lurches violently forward. The costumes are lavish, the makeup on the Harkonnen and Fremen characters is subtle but evocative, the visual effects are entirely seamless. This is, quite simply, the best visual film that you are likely to see in this still young 2024.

But Dune Part Two is not just about the below-the-line talent. Underneath the bulky techs exists a complex world, crafted of course by the novels that created it, that speaks to dark and confusing aspects of our shared humanity. While the first film was about a more pedestrian trade war and fight over resources – a topic that, to be sure, resonates in a world running out of water and other materials – this one is about something more fundamental: extremism and all the forms that it takes, or the follies it engenders.

Stellan Skarsgård, Austin Butler in Dune: Part 2 (Warner Bros.)

As monstrous and misshapen as the Baron and his acolytes are, the dark undertones that slowly rise from within Paul himself and his new followers is no less chilling and even terrifying. Lady Jessica is, to be sure, ruthlessly ambitious, Lady Macbeth style, but the damage she unleashes is unquestionably broader. Questions of messianic complexes, saviors, prophecies, and the inevitability of human destruction are all interspersed in this intergalactic, intergenerational battle. Paul is kind and for the most part resists the fate he has foreseen for himself and for his beloved Chani, until powerful forces intercede. The complexity with which Chalamet and Ferguson play these two captivating characters cannot be overstated, even if some of the less experienced actors in their group overplay their hand.

Dune Part Two ultimately does not answer any of the transcendental questions it poses or resolve the conflicts it targets. While the plotline of the first film is mostly resolved, another, far vaster one is just beginning. There were, after all, eight novels in Herbert’s anthology, and these first films only cover the first one. Villeneuve—and surely the studio—have big dreams for this franchise, and we are all lucky that they have indulged them. Nothing is left to chance, and the wonderfully imaginative world is brought to palpable relief. All that is left is to hope that audiences see the brilliance, too, so that it may be worth the studio’s while to continue to do so.

Talent: A
Story: B+
Crafts: A+
Awards Potential: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress (Ferguson), Best Supporting Actor (Bardem), Best Score, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costumes, Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Sound
Box Office Potential: High
Renewability: Hopefully a lot – there are still several novels left in Frank Herbert’s series.

Overall Score: A-

Warner Bros. will release Dune Part Two worldwide on March 1, 2024.

You can read Edward Douglas‘s review here.


Studio: Warner Bros.
Principal Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, Léa Seydoux, Souheila Yacoub, Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenwriter: Denis Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts
Producers: Mary Parent, Cale Boyter, Denis Villeneuve, Tanya Lapointe, Patrick McCormick
DP: Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS
Production Design: Patrice Vermette
Costume Design: Jacqueline Wes
Editor: Joe Walker, ACE
Score: Hans Zimmer

Twitter: @jdonbirnam
Instagram: @awards_predix

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