The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Dune: Part Two

By George & Josh Bate

Dune part 2 review

When thinking of iconic sequels across cinema history, ventures in sci-fi/fantasy dominate. In 1980, The Empire Strikes Back accomplished the seemingly impossible and surpassed its predecessor, the beloved original Star Wars, before becoming widely accepted as one of the greatest sequels of all time. Six years later, James Cameron crafted a sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien that achieved similarly legendary status with Aliens. And, just a few years ago, another sequel to a Ridley Scott-helmed sci-fi classic – Blade Runner 2049 – became the latest sci-fi film to dispel the notion that sequels are always worse than the originals. Now, with Dune: Part Two, acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve strikes gold again with a sprawling sci-fi epic that has the potential to achieve the iconic status that The Empire Strikes Back and Aliens have. 

Dune: Part Two is an adaptation of the second half of Frank Herbert’s classic novel and picks up right after the events of Dune: Part One. Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Lady Jessica (played by Rebecca Ferguson) have aligned themselves with the Fremen, natives on the spice world of Arrakis, following the death of Duke Leto Atreides and the fall of House Atreides depicted in Part One. As Paul seeks revenge against House Harkonnen and the broader Imperium for plotting against his family, a prophecy spread among the Fremen proclaims that Paul is to become a Messiah-like figure known as the Lisan-al-Gaib.

Dune: Part Two unfolds in a similar pattern to other adaptations of novels split into multiple adaptations, such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Unlike the aforementioned sci-fi sequels like The Empire Strikes Back and Aliens, Dune: Part Two is firmly a follow-up to its predecessor and, in turn, is best conceived in tandem with Part One rather than as a standalone film. That does not mean to say Part Two cannot be enjoyed in isolation, but it certainly means that true appreciation of the film requires a pretty thorough understanding of Part One. Given this, a rewatch of Part One prior to watching Part Two is highly recommended.

Perhaps the greatest feat for this sequel to achieve is its to depict a deeply lived-in universe and a decently complicated story in a fairly approachable manner. Frank Herbert’s novel, the source material for Villeneuve’s film, has a density to its world, themes, and characters that make it intrinsically unwieldy to adapt into a film. Villeneuve took this challenge head on with Part One and successfully crafted a film that captured the grandness of Herbert’s universe, while never devolving into incomprehensible territory. In the sequel, Villeneuve manages to do this again, for the most part that is. Part Two proves to be more difficult to follow than Part One as the existing characters’ journeys progress, new characters are introduced, and the lore/mythology continues to build. And, although viewing may require particular attention and there may be some lingering and puzzling question marks about characters’ motivations, Part Two is impressively digestible given the density of its source material.

Dune part 2 review

But it’s this very density to its story and world that makes Dune: Part Two such a captivating film. At its heart is Paul Atreides, who must grapple with the possibility that he is a Messiah-figure while growing closer to the Fremen and seeking revenge against those who destroyed his family. Elsewhere there is House Harkonnen, led by Stellan Skarsgård’s large and menacing Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, who have successfully taken back the planet Arrakis and begun pillaging it for spice. Also in the mix is the Imperium, the broader government that pitted House Harkonnen against House Atreides. Unlike Part One, in which the Imperium’s leadership did not make an appearance, Part Two dives deeper into the overarching government. Leading the Imperium is the Emperor, played by the legendary Christopher Walken. Accompanying him is his daughter Princess Irulan, played by Florence Pugh. Then, to add another ingredient to this dish, the Bene Gesserit, a mysterious religious sisterhood, manipulate events from behind the scenes to increase their power. So many different characters, cultures, and organizations play roles in the film’s sprawling narrative, which culminates in the film achieving a level of cinematic world-building seldom seen outside of the likes of Star Wars. 

With so many characters at hand, Dune: Part Two also benefits from an extraordinarily talented ensemble cast. Somehow even rivaling the stardom of Avengers: Endgame’s ensemble, Chalamet leads a cast of some of the industry’s most talented and famous actors. Chalamet grows into the role of Paul Atreides in Part Two, especially in the film’s second half, although he isn’t given much opportunity to convey the grief of losing his father in a more intimate way. Chalamet doesn’t quite have the screen presence of some of his co-stars, which, coupled with a script that doesn’t give him much opportunity to emote expressively, means he isn’t always the most compelling lead.

Dune part 2 review

But there are a few standouts amidst the ensemble. Austin Butler portrays a new character in the film – Feyyd-Rautha Harkonnen – with a terrifying brutality and menace. Feyd-Rautha is the nephew of Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Harkonnen, who is seen by some as a potential successor, not only of House Harkonnen, but of the Imperium. Butler borrows from Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight and Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men to craft an unnerving and scene-stealing villain. It’s a magnetic performance that terrifies and mesmerizes in equal measure.

Speaking of Javier Bardem, the Oscar winner also stands out amidst the impressive ensemble. Bardem played a relatively small role in Part One as the Freman leader Stilgar, but takes on a far greater presence in Part Two. Bardem brings a genuine conviction to his role as a zealot, who believes Paul Atreides is the Lisan-al-Gaib, a prophet that is said to be “The One Who Will Lead Us to Paradise.” With a performance decidedly different from his role in No Country for Old Men that earned his Academy Award, Bardem showcases his versatility and dynamism as an actor here.

Dune part 2 review

Outshining the ensemble, however, are the film’s brilliant visuals. Director Denis Villeneuve has constructed some visually stunning films and yet Dune: Part Two is his most aesthetically accomplished work to date. Jaw-dropping cinematography from Greig Fraser and intricate production design by Patrice Vermette, in addition to some truly breathtaking visual effects, complement Villeneuve’s directing to culminate in a genuine visual marvel. The film achieves a grandiosity and scale reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, while simultaneously possessing an incredible attention to detail and nuance. 

VERDICT: 8.5/10

Dune: Part Two is a sci-fi epic that achieves a sprawling level of grandness that few other films in history have accomplished. Outstanding world- and mythology-building, grounded so faithfully in the text of Frank Herbert’s source material, create an immersive viewing experience with a universe so lived-in and authentic. For the most part, Part Two retains a grasp on its potentially unwieldy source material, resulting in a film that is complicated yet never unapproachable. Austin Butler and Javier Bardem stand out in an impressive ensemble cast, while Timothée Chalamet doesn’t quite bring the necessary presence and emotionality as the lead. Beyond performances, a stunning technical achievement, reflected by unbelievable achievements in cinematography, production design, and sound design, makes Dune: Part Two a tale with Return of the King-esque grandness. Whether or not Dune: Part Two endures in conversations about iconic sequels alongside The Empire Strikes Back and Aliens remains to be seen, but it is undoubted that Denis Villeneuve has made a film as potent and striking as the spice on Arrakis.

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