Film Review: Intense, Epic “Dune: Part Two”

dune part two 2024 - movie poster one sheetFrank Herbert’s sci-fi masterpiece “Dune” was first published in 1965 and has subsequently enthralled generations of readers with its enormous political drama woven together with a quasi-Eastern mysticism. It’s a strange mashup where feudal societies thrive in a world with their royal dynasties spread across galaxies rather than continents. The book has proven to be a difficult cinematic adaptation, however, first attempted by cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky back in the 1970s, without success (as engagingly documented in the film Jodoworsky’s Dune [my review]). The first actual movie was directed by David Lynch in 1984 and is dated and rather painful to watch. In 2000 there was a decent mini-series based on the book, but until director Denis Villeneuve tackled the project, it was at risk of being considered unfilmable.

Villeneuve had delivered a series of big, epic, visually stunning sci-fi thrillers including Arrival [my review] and Blade Runner: 2049 [my review] prior to tackling the Herbert classic. In 2021 his sweeping and breathtaking version of Dune was released [my review] to great critical acclaim. Villeneuve can visualize enormous spectacles and capture them on film, reminiscent of master filmmaker David Lean. His visual effects crew also deserves enormous credit, as they have demonstrated again and again that they can create completely seamless and believable spectacles. All of his films beg for IMAX and a sophisticated sound system, not a home theater with the dog barking during the fight scenes. I loved the first film though was a bit surprised after 2 1/2 hours that it was just “part one” of the story.

Finally, Dune: Part Two is out and it picks up the story perfectly, satisfying us fans who have been waiting years for the next installment. It is not the completion of the story, however, so be prepared that even though it’s almost 3 hours long, there’ll be a part three to complete the saga.

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Paul (Chalamet) speaks to the Fremen, from “Dune: Part Two”

The story takes place primarily on Arrakis, a rather inconsequential world except that its desert contains a substance known as Spice. It’s the only place in the galaxy that produces spice, required by the navigators who guide ships between universes. As a result, it’s enormously valuable. For centuries the cruel and sadistic House Harkonnen has ruled Arrakis. In Dune: Part One we met young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), his father Duke Atreides (Oscar Isaac). and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). Their royal dynasty, the House Atreides, has been appointed by the Emperor to take over management of Arrakis and the all-important spice production.

The spice must flow, but evil Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) is not happy being ejected from the massively profitable Arrakis. Complicating things are the indigenous citizens of Arrakis, the Fremen, who have been rebelling against subjugation for centuries from their secret desert encampments. The desert of Arrakis is an inhospitable place with its gigantic sandworms that are attracted to any rhythmic sound and swallow up vehicles, workers, troops, and spice mining equipment, then dive back into the sand. The Baron attacks to regain control, Paul and his mother escape to the mysterious Fremen, and it appears that Paul might be the realizatiohave been of an ancient prophecy of the Chosen One who will set the Fremen free from oppression. Paul meets Freman fighter Chani (Zendaya) and sees in a vision that they will fall in love. End of part one.

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Paul (Chalamet) and Chani (Zendaya), from “Dune: Part Two”

Dune: Part Two picks up where part one ends and has our young hero seeking to integrate into Fremen life, though many distrust him as a foreigner. Jessica is even more complicated because she is part of the Bene Gesserit, a secretive group of women who have psychic powers and great fighting skills and seek to control the great stream of life. Paul, who gains the Freman nickname “Usul”, is torn between his rage towards House Harkonnen for the invasion and murder of so many of his friends and family, but he has a legacy to fulfill as the Bene Gesserit “Kwisatz Haderach”, destined to control the galaxy. The Fremen also believe he’s their messiah.

The film follows his parallel journeys as an outsider proving himself a Fremen, a young man attracted to the aloof Chani, the son of a Bene Gesserit who gets glimpses of the future, a potential messiah, and more. It’s a lot, and there are many scenes of introspection on his hero’s journey. This includes sweeping, epic fight scenes as the Freman fight the Harkonnen invaders, initially led by the endlessly raging Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista) and then by the even more alarming sadist Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler). More impressive are the solo combat scenes that burn with a startling intensity on the screen.

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One of many intense fight scenes, from “Dune: Part Two”

Dune: Part Two covers the Harkonnen attempts to quell the protests and riots from the Fremen, as led by Paul Atreides, even as the Fremen rachet up their rebellion in an attempt to recover control of the planet for themselves. Soon the Emperor (Christopher Walken) and his scheming daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) are pulled into the story, with chaotic effects; will the other royal houses continue to back the Emperor when the flow of spice is at stake?

The film itself is tremendous, and so epic that it’s actually rather exhausting at times. Everything is epic and enormous, from bedrooms the size of aircraft hangers to interplanetary ships that are large enough to house millions of people. There’s not much lighthearted in Villeneuve’s Dune universe, but the source material is endlessly dark and intense, fascinating and intriguing from a distance, but also heavy and overwhelming. Fortunatley, it’s all an epic spectacle too that keeps moving along at a (mostly) good clip. Key challenges in the book are beautifully realized in the film too, including the sandworms which are awe-inspiring.

With the rise of seamless visual and computer effects, science fiction has become one of the great genres of big-screen cinema today, limited more by the imagination of the filmmakers than by any technical constraints. Denis Villeneuve wonderfully demonstrates this with Dune and now Dune: Part Two, offering up an astonishing world that will blow viewers away. Go see this on an IMAX screen for the best experience, and be prepared to walk out a bit dazed. It’s a LOT. And it’s excellent.

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dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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