Dune: Part Two review | Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi triumph

by W. Andrew Powell
Dune: Part Two

Denis Villeneuve is one of the best filmmakers today, and Dune: Part Two is a work of art that is breathtaking, astonishing, and one of the best cinematic events I’ve experienced in years.

Dune: Part One was amazing, and it was one of my favourite films of 2021–and I loved the premiere at TIFF that year–but the sequel is superior in every way. It’s almost shocking how Villeneuve and his team tells this complex story in often simple ways, short dialogue, and then grandiose spectacles that look perfect.

To put it another way, it feels like Dune walked so Dune: Part Two could run. At 2 hours and 40 minutes, that’s a huge accomplishment, without a second I would cut, and that’s another rare feat as well.

Frank Herbert’s Dune felt unfilmable only a few years ago, and while special effects, costumes, and cinematography bring a lot to life in the film, it’s Villeneuve’s expert direction and the screenplay by him and Jon Spaihts that makes some of the most complex parts of the story clear, moving, and dark as hell.

Dune: Part Two picks up right after the first film, with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), being led back to the Fremen’s home, Sietch Tabr, by Stilgar (Javier Bardem). The Fremen distrust the two outsiders, but when they arrive, Jessica is led away because they know that she’s Bene Gesserit, and they need her to replace the ailing spiritual leader of the tribe in a special ceremony.

Sandworms emerge in Dune: Part Two

Jessica’s transformation into the Reverend Mother is important because it’s the key to two major events; it’s when Jessica’s daughter, still a fetus in the womb, is transformed as well, and it’s the start of Paul’s rise to become Muad’Dib, and the Lisan al-Gaib; the prophet of the Fremen people.

Paul’s goal though is to become a part of the Fremen, and use the power he has–to see possible futures–without losing control. He has visions of what could be, and through them he tries to avoid the worst outcomes, until he’s literally forced down a path he didn’t want. We saw that for the first time with the death of Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun) in Part One, who was supposed to be Paul’s mentor, but instead, Paul has to kill him. It’s a step down a path that Paul seems destined to follow, but we know he is making his choices along the way.

Learning wormriding, travelling on the back of one of the biggest, oldest sandworms, Paul takes his Fremen name, Muad’Dib, but he’s also forced to follow the path to become Lisan al-Gaib, a path he knows leads to countless deaths across the galaxy.

On the one side, the Fremen people already see him as the saviour that will change Arakas into paradise for them, and free them from the Emperor (Christopher Walken), thanks to the Bene Gesserit’s stories that have been told to the people for years. At the same time, his mother is also at work converting the people to fully accept him. It’s like a trap he can’t escape.

The one person who keeps Paul steady is Chani (Zendaya), a Fremen warrior who loves him, and after all of Paul’s visions of her, they fall in love quickly, but when Paul is forced to follow the steps to become Lisan al-Gaib, everything changes quickly, in one instant. After it’s all done, you have to wonder how much of the young Paul is left to love Chani.

Timothée Chalamet and Austin Butler in Dune: Part Two

Villeneuve’s storytelling is direct–it’s easy to understand despite Herbert’s complex novel–and he turns Paul’s visions, and even moments when he first rides the sandworm, into huge spectacles. The massive battle at the end of the film, and even little battles along the way, are jaw-droppingly perfect. And moments like Feyd-Rautha’s (Austin Butler) introduction on the Harkonnen planet are so huge that they feel like some of the great moments of classic cinema, something we rarely see any more.

Watching Paul’s story unfold, I was drawn along with him every step of the way. It was like being there and while the IMAX experience certainly lends itself to that feeling, Villeneuve’s direction is what makes the film a masterpiece. He brings the pieces of the story together perfectly with Hans Zimmer’s score, Joe Walker’s editing, and cinematographer Greig Fraser’s phenomenal vision, not to mentiion the cast. It’s like watching an orchestra come together for a symphony.

The cast is of course also fantastic together, with Josh Brolin’s grit as Gurney Halleck, Bardem’s fervour and comic timing, Ferguson’s powerful and even frightening transformation, and Chalamet’s progress that takes Paul from a boy to the point of being a very believable, grim messiah. Zendaya, Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan, and the great Dave Bautista as Glossu Rabban Harkonnen also deliver great performances in this large, ensemble cast.

And the only complaint that I can level is that, while Part One set up everything we see in the sequel, Part Two is so spectacular that it overshadows nearly everything in the first film. With any luck, we’ll be able to say the same thing about this film when Villeneuve finishes Dune: Part Three in a few years.

Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya in Dune: Part Two

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