Dune: Part Two

In the interest of complete honesty, I was not looking forward to Dune: Part Two for a very specific reason: Dune: Part One bored me stiff. Frank Herbert’s novel, on which the movies are based, is notoriously complicated, and the first part of Denis Villeneuve’s screen adaptation felt like two-and-a-half hours of dull exposition. Happily, and to my great surprise, the second installment is significantly better, with more action and character development. It seems pretty clear that Part One was the movie they had to make in order to do the one they really wanted to make.

Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) has joined forces with Chani (Zendaya) to wrestle back control of the planet Arrakis, which is rich with valuable spices. That means taking on the sinister Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) and his psychotic nephew Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler). He also strives to prove he is the “Chosen One” believed by many people, including friend Stilgar (Javier Bardem), to be a prophesied savior. Rebecca Ferguson and Josh Brolin return as, respectively, Paul’s mother Jessica and his mentor Gurney, and Florence Pugh joins the cast as Irulan, a princess whose ultimate connection to Paul is best left unrevealed for those who don’t already know.

With all the set-up out of the way, Dune: Part Two is free to delve fully into Paul’s journey. The concept of him becoming a savior is handled in a compelling manner, with suggestions that it comes with a potential downside to match the benefits. His parallel romantic relationship with Chani builds to a dramatic resolution between them that furthers the complexity of the situation. And although her arc isn’t explored as deeply, Jessica undergoes a change that adds meaning to her son’s odyssey. Rather than endless scenes of characters being introduced, the film lets those characters start to do things. The story is energized as a result.

Action scenes are plentiful this time. A sequence where Paul rides one of the massive desert sandworms is thrilling, as is his combined effort with Chani to shoot down armed vehicles flying above them. Visually speaking, a black-and-white gladiator-type fight featuring Fayd-Rautha is a highlight, offering style to match the stunningly choreographed violence. Accentuating these scenes are some of the most impressive special effects in recent memory. They don’t look like obvious CGI, a trait that lets them infuse Dune: Part Two with a sense of grandeur and scope.

The performances are strong across the board. Chalamet does amazing minimalist acting in the first two-thirds, so that his more forceful turn during the finale packs the necessary punch. Butler is the other standout, making Fayd-Rautha a bald, pasty-white, perpetually sneering menace. He’s genuinely kind of scary. Herbert’s tale has always been a little self-serious. That’s true here, too, but the first-rate cast helps the themes related to faith and destiny shine through.

Because of the denseness of the source material, certain aspects of the movie are streamlined and therefore feel a bit thin, especially the stuff with Gurney. Irulan, meanwhile, is present largely to verbally advance plot points, despite being nicely portrayed by the always excellent Pugh. For whatever flaws it has, Dune: Part Two is an improvement over its predecessor. Increased action, a non-lethargic pace, and those incredible sandworms won me over, against the odds.

out of four

Dune: Part Two is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some suggestive material, and brief strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 46 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan