Review – Dune: Part Two

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Overview

Synopsis Following the events of the Harkonnens' attack on Arrakis, Paul Atreides has joined the Fremen and prepares to lead them as a messiah leader on a holy war against the oppressive Imperial government.

Length 2 hours, 46 minutes

Release Date March 1, 2023

 

Rating PG-13

Distribution Warner Bros.

Directing Denis Villeneuve

Writing Denis Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts

Composition Hans Zimmer

Starring Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, Léa Seydoux, Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, Javier Bardem

The history of Dune, since it was first published in 1965, has been a saga involving a long series of sequels and adaptation attempts. Series creator Frank Herbert would write five sequels to his book, of varying quality and generally mixed reception. His son Brian Herbert would write nineteen poorly received spin-off books and sequels based loosely on his father’s notes.

Famously, four attempts would be made to adapt the first book into a movie. Cult Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky would fail to adapt the book into a 14-hour art film in the 1970s, and would later be cataloged in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. Surrealist David Lynch would fail to adapt the book into a mainstream film in 1984. Finally, the Sci-Fi Channel would succeed in adapting two low-budget miniseries, Frank Herbert’s Dune and Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune.

After decades of effort, the fourth cinematic attempt has finally been achieved by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049), with his half-decade effort to adapt the first book as a duology finally coming to fruition. And while he is likely to take a break after this to direct a Cleopatra epic or an adaptation of Arthur C. Clark’s Rendezvous With Rama, his announcement of a script in development for Dune: Messiah suggests that this success may spark a golden age of Dune adaptations.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: PG-13 violence; hand-to-hand combat, stabbing, shooting, and explosions.
Language/Crude Humor: Some language including s***, p***, and h***.
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters consume substances that cause psychedelic visions.
Sexual Content: No nudity is depicted, but sexual activity is implied off-screen in several scenes.
Spiritual Content: The film explores the negative implications of faith and prophecy, with one character being depicted as a false messiah.
Other Negative Content: Some atheistic implications and negative depictions of religion, with fundamentalism being derided as violent and irrational.
Positive Content: Themes of man’s flawed nature, the moral challenges of power, and the consequences of moral evil.

Review

When the first part of Denis Villeneuve’s epic adaption of Frank Herbert’s Dune was released in fall 2021, I couldn’t help but feel left cold by it. It was a monstrously ambitious adaptation of one of the great works of classic influential science fiction. It had a star-studded cast with many of our greatest working actors. It was working from great source material (albeit which had created two or three failed adaptions before it). And yet, this new version of Dune was just the first chapter of a larger story. It was unfinished; mostly set up for a movie that Warner Bros. hadn’t even formally announced yet due to the excessive budget and low box office returns during the pandemic.

In short, Dune: Part One left me feeling incomplete. Frank Herbert’s Dune is a lot of things, but the fulfillment of its story, drawing upon psychedelic visions, a vast stellar jihad, and the machinations of empires, all happens in the back half of the book. This left the first half, which had to set all this up in an accessible way, feeling uneven, uncathartic, and unresolved. Villeneuve was entirely lucky that Warner Bros. announced its sequel before it premiered, given that it only grossed $108 million domestically; otherwise, the first film would’ve been set up for a non-existent sequel.

Thankfully, the wait has all been worth it. After two and a half years of development and delays, Dune: Part Two has finally arrived. It is both a needed improvement from the weaknesses of the first film and a fulfillment of a six-decade dream of adapting one of the most unadaptable books of all time into a popular mainstream blockbuster. And with a third film already announced and three to five years out, there has never been a better time to be a Dune fan.

The film picks up immediately following the events of the last film. Paul Atreides and his mother have fled into the desert and been embraced by the nomadic Fremen people, who are starting to believe that he may be the fulfillment of an ancient messianic prophecy of a Lisan al-Gaib—one that had falsely been implanted among their peoples by Imperial witches to set the stage for their artificial messiah figure, the Kwisatz Haderach.

The brutal Harkonnens have ceased spice production on the planet and are attempting to ramp it up once again, but with Paul’s help, the Fremen gain the advantage against the spice miners and begin systematically destroying spice production. All the while, Paul is having visions that his embracing of the role of Fremen messiah could have dire consequences for the entirety of humanity and spark a genocidal holy war.

With most of this complicated worldbuilding having been handled in the first movie, Dune: Part Two greatly leans into the core character study of Paul Atreides as he embraces his Fremen identity as Muad’Dib Usul. In the last film, the young and innocent prince is haunted by the visions of his future and the potential outcome of his actions. He is still very reluctant early on in this film, but his transformation from being an idealistic young man to a brutal messianic warlord is striking. Zendaya’s role as Chani ends up being a wonderful foil in this context, serving as the voice of Paul’s conscience as he begins to transform into something darker and more dangerous.

Timothée Chalamet, an actor whom I’ve generally enjoyed up to this point in films like French Dispatch and Little Women, gives what would otherwise be a star-making performance for an actor who wasn’t already well-regarded and accomplished. If he felt wimpy and underserved as a character in the first movie, Chalamet manages to own the performance and transform his version of Paul Atriedes into a brutal character who can match anyone in combat and convincingly command an army.

As with the first film, Dune: Part Two is a stunningly beautiful film that manages to use its $190 million budget better than most contemporary blockbusters. The scale of the combat and spectacle is comparable to anything this decade, and the few chances the movie has to travel off-world are used as opportunities to depict planets with entirely different aesthetics and visual styles that are just as striking.

It says a lot that while the first film felt a bit distant, there were no less than three moments in this film where I genuinely felt like I couldn’t pull my eyes off the screen. The sheer tension of the moment or the incredibility of its visual choices locked my eyes to what was happening and made me want to see how it would play out. While it likely isn’t a masterpiece and doesn’t come to the level of something like The Lord of the Rings, Villeneuve’s Dune duology has finally succeeded in making the impossible into the possible.

Frank Herbert’s Dune is a bittersweet story about good characters being corrupted by the nature of power and the worst aspects of human nature, twisting faith into irrationality and virtue into cruelty. That I walked out of the theater with a bittersweet feeling of dread is a testament that Villeneuve has managed to imperfectly capture a small part of what makes Dune amazing. It was a very cathartic watch after nearly three years.

Positives

+ Amazing spectacle
+ Great performances
+ Great setup for a third film
+ Powerful themes and tension

Negatives

- Somewhat uneven story
- Imperfect adaptation of the book
- Straight forward adaptation downplays weird aspects of the book

The Bottom Line

Dune: Part Two fulfills the anticipation of six decades of sequels and adaptations of the original classic book, creating one of the biggest spectacle blockbusters of the decade.

 

8.5

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

4 Comments

  1. David R on April 23, 2024 at 8:10 pm

    I’m a Christian, I went to see it, I wish I hadn’t . This comment from a commonsense media user sums it up well….
    Disturbing, dark, and sadistic movie that will weigh heavy on your soul.
    Incredibly violent, disturbing, sadistic, and nausea inducing movie. Another reviewer hit the nail on the head, something just feels off and wrong about watching this incredibly dark film on screen and it induces an extremely heavy weight on the soul. Yes, it’s a well made movie that has an interesting story. However, you have to ask yourself. What are the long term consequences to your mind to view this type of disturbing imagery? My husband regretted taking our teenage boys to this movie and even regretted watching it himself.

  2. David Legg on March 8, 2024 at 1:50 pm

    So, I came here by clicking on a link called ‘Should Christians Watch Dune 2 – Christian Review of Dune 2’?

    • James Baker on March 15, 2024 at 10:31 am

      Yes, you should. This is a Christian site, and the verdict is 8.5/10. Other Christian reviewers say similar things. It’s not perfect, but it’s very good.

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