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Review: Dune: Part Two is Villeneuve’s Magnum Opus, a Glorious Conclusion Well Worth the Wait

Denis Villenueve‘s highly-acclaimed 2021 adaptation of Frank Herbert‘s 1965 sci-fi novel ended on a cliffhanger that may have thrown a few people off, who were otherwise appreciating the grand spectacle of it all. The movie went on to win six Oscars, all in below-the-line crafts categories, as fans chomped at the bit for its conclusion, which was delayed by last year’s strikes.

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

When last we left Timothée Chalamet‘s Paul Atreides and his mother, Lady Jessica, (Rebecca Ferguson), they had joined up with the wary Fremen in the desert wastelands of the planet Arrakis. The planet’s indigenous people have begun to accept the outsiders, Jessica even being asked to become the Reverend Mother for the tribe, while Paul is thought by many to be the “Mahdi” aka the Messiah. In other words, white saviorship is mostly alive and well on Arrakis. After wiping out Paul’s family, the Harrokens’  next war is with the Fremen, who have made their harvesting of the planet’s precious “spice” nearly impossible.

Considering that the previous chapter ended in a relatively disappointing way, it’s surprising that Part 2 can start in the exact same place and find a way to make it far more interesting by delving further into faith and spirituality, while making a commentary on the impact of globalization on indigenous societies, while also taking cues from the situation in the Middle East. Some of this stuff was in Herbert’s novel for sure, but Villeneuve and his co-writer Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) have found ways of instilling elements of what’s going on in the world these days to make the story of Dune feel so much more relevant to our own times, and not necessarily “science fiction.”

Austin Butler in Dune: Part Two (Warner Bros.)

Part 2 wisely puts more attention on Paul and his mother, and their relationship with Fremen like Zendaya‘s Chani, essentially a glorified love interest, and Javier Bardem as Stilgar, the leader of the tribe with whom Paul and his mother settle. They both bring so much more to their characters than we were able to see in Part 1.

This also creates quite a contrast to when, an hour into the movie, we finally meet Austin Butler‘s Feyd-Rautha, the sadistic younger nephew to Stellan Skarsgård‘s Baron Harkonnen, and the film begins alternating between Arrakis and the homeworld, building to a final confrontation. Those who saw David Lynch‘s 1984 take on Dune might remember that the character was played by pop star Sting, but Butler brings an overwhelming ruthlessness to the character that makes his scenes pop. Maybe the eventual confrontation between Feyd-Rautha and Paul might seem like somewhat of a letdown, but it is done in a better way than in the Lynch movie, where the fight was over and done in mere minutes. (The Emperor, played commendably by Christopher Walken, and his daughter, played by Florence Pugh, appear in a prologue of the film but don’t appear much in the film until the third act.)

There’s little question that Villeneuve may be one of the top filmmakers on the planet  (Earth, that is) right now, his mastery of all aspects of cinema evident from every decision made in concluding this chapter of his Dune.

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

The sequel ends up being even more gorgeous than the first part with all of Villeneuve’s below-the-line collaborators upping their game, especially when it comes to the film’s color palette, which goes from the red and browns of Arrakis to a striking black-and-white sequence involving Feyd-Rautha fighting in a Gladiator-style stadium fight. This is one of those films where every scene will cause the viewer’s jaw to drop, and thankfully, there won’t be options to see it on television sets and iPads (hopefully) for many, many months.

As well as the first part of Dune did theatrically – despite the ongoing pandemic and a concurrent streaming release on HBO Max – Part 2 is going to benefit greatly from the first part being so readily available to watch over the last two years, including a recent theatrical re-release. Dune: Part 2 has to be one of the most anticipated movies of the year in a box office that’s been stagnating from a lack of strong, new releases. Some may be disappointed that Part 2 once again ends on a cliffhanger, and it might be even longer for the next chapter, but Dune Part 2 offers so much rewatchability, it should have a strong presence in theaters for most of March into April.

Dune: Part 2 is a bonafide masterpiece that delivers on the promise of the first movie, while adding so much more in terms of layers and depth. It will be shocking if this is not front and center in many Oscar races a year from now.

Talent: A
Story: A-
Crafts: A+

Awards Potential: This is going to be a huge Oscar player, not just with similar below-the-line nominations and wins as the first movie, but Villeneuve should get nominated both for his directing and for his adaptation with Jon Spaihts, as well as another Best Picture nomination. Austin Butler stands the best chance at a supporting acting nod, but for the rest of the year, this will be the movie that all others are compared.
Box Office Potential: As with awards, this is going to be HUGE. One of the top grossers of the year worldwide.
Renewability: Dune: Chapter Three (aka Dune Messiah) will definitely happen. It might take five years or more, but Warner Bros. should pay Villeneuve whatever he wants. (Note: We’ll have an interview with Villeneuve here on Above the Line next week.)

Overall Score: A

Dune Part 2 opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 1.

You can read J. Don Birnam‘s review here.

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

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.


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