Dune: Part Two

Dune: Part Two
Dune: Part Two
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Massive, “Dune: Part Two” by Denis Villeneuve will probably be described with that word the most. Also expect a lot of different usages of terms like ‘epic’ and ‘spectacle’. In other words, no matter what big words you use to define it, Villeneuve didn’t exactly approach Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel with little intent; instead he intended a superlative next film following his Oscar-winning 2021 release. Where that cherished blockbuster often felt like half a movie, “Dune: Part Two” finds much greater stakes on Arrakis and still manages to season an old-fashioned narrative with just enough comedy and nuanced discussions about power and fanaticism. Far more than merely being a savior or chosen one tale, this is a robust piece of cinema called “Dune: Part Two”, which reminds that these kinds of broad-scale blockbusters can be made artistically and stylistically.

So close is “Dune: Part Two” to the first film that the Fremen are still bringing back Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun) whose body was defeated by Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet). After House Atreides massacre Paul joined Fremen despite Jessica’s (Rebecca Ferguson)disapproval. As far as they were concerned desert had taken both Paul and his mother thus putting them into this kind of violence after they wiped out the intruding Atreides clan in House Harkonnen intensified its assault on Fremen resulting in some beautifully choreographed battles between fighters of the two sides. During the first hour Villeneuve et al have managed to bring in well-choreographed battle sequences pitting Harkonnen militia against not only Sardaukar but also Fremen tribal combatants who quite often appear literally from beneath their feet before destroying them using their own weapons. Huge ships exploding in mid-air while bodies rain down the sky in almost operatic fashion. In the midst of all this Rabban Harkonnen is quite well depicted by Dave Bautista as a war-leader way over his bald head while Stellan Skargard is definitely leaning more into a blend between Nosferatu and Jabba the Hutt.

In “Dune: Part Two”, Paul moves from being a scared young adult at the start of the first film to a potential leader against a backdrop of Fremen fighting the Harkonnens for control of Arrakis. A tribal leader among them named Stilgar (Javier Bardem) believes that Paul Atreides is the chosen one who has been prophesied about throughout history by his people. Even though most of what we see points towards Paul’s role as savior, Emo King tries to melt in with Fremen and starts dating a young warrior called Chani (Zendaya). He gets through Fremen’s tests, becomes Muad’Dib within their tribe and swears vengeance on Harkonnens for having killed his father.

On an alien world, Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken) talks with his daughter Irulan (Florence Pugh) and a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling) about Arrakis. Early on, it’s revealed that Shaddam in essence sent House Atreides to their demise, which puts him under the category of people Paul has vowed to avenge; however, Irulan is writing something like a narrator for “Dune: Part Two” as she is speaking into the device that seems intended to help audience members follow along.

If the interstellar politics aren’t enough, writers Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts inject a nice dose of religious fanaticism for the inevitable think pieces too. Lady Jessica becomes important religious leader among the Fremen to guide her son’s rise which feels somehow wrong or suspicious. The traditional hero’s journey doesn’t apply to “Dune: Part Two” since it constantly asks whether it should be led by an outsider from another culture—Chani surely doesn’t think so and Zendaya subtly leaves hints making viewers ponder what would have constituted happy ending for these characters. As Jessica and Paul learn more about Fremen history and culture, they threaten not to lead it as much as dismantle and own it. There’s a big difference.

The plotting in “Part Two” is definitely richer than the first film but its greatest strengths are once again on a craft level. The color use in Greig Fraser Oscar winning cinematography from previous movie is even better here, especially when sunlight hits Chalamet’s face at just one angle or wildly varying palettes separating Harkonnens from Fremen communities. The desert culture browns and blues do not feel dry but rather become rooted and tangible while Harokonnen world is full of blackness – even there isn’t firework that looks like someone throwing colorless paint on wall pops off. I found Hans Zimmer’s Oscar-winning score a little over the top in the first film but he smartly characterizes this one differently, finding softer sounds for the ice-cold Harkonnens to balance against more heated Fremen-influenced score. Furthermore, I felt that the effects and sound design were denser this time around, and that fight choreography reminded me of how poorly it has been done in other blockbuster movies.

As for performers, Chalamet is likely to be the most divisive element, often feeling a bit flat for someone believed to be the Neo of this world. However, these choices amount to something thematically coherent that contributes to ambiguity surrounding Paul’s rise. Zendaya is fine – though she does not have much chemistry with Chalamet would have helped – but Ferguson’s slippery turn and Bardem’s playfulness add elements not seen in first movie. Lastly, Austin Butler really embraces his role as Feyd-Rautha even more so than before here giving an exaggerated performance as a sociopathic nephew of Baron who chews scenery as if his life depended on it since this part requires an emotional void while juxtaposing Chalamet’s stormy inner self.

Comparisons have been made between “Dune: Part Two” and “The Empire Strikes Back” prior to its release, but it’s not quite accurate. The better analogy is “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” another film that built on what we knew about the characters from the first film, added a few new ones, and really amplified a sense of continuous battle and danger. Both will inevitably have a third installment. Critics must find out another word for massive.

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