‘Dune: Part Two’ is a Staggering, Spectacular Triumph of a Sequel

John Maescher ‘27 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Timothée Chalamet in Dune: Part Two. Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

Light spoilers ahead. 

French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has spent the last several years devoted to a massive, risky undertaking: pulling off the definitive adaptation of Frank Herbert’s beloved 1965 sci-fi novel Dune. As proven by David Lynch’s interesting but messy 1984 adaptation, Dune isn’t exactly the easiest text to translate to the silver screen – at least in a single installment. Naturally, Villeneuve made the noble decision to split his adaptation into multiple parts to account for the novel’s dense, sprawling weight, the first of which arrived in fall 2021. Villeneuve’s Dune: Part One was precisely the bold, spectacular adaptation the novel deserved, matching perfectly with Villeneuve’s stylistic sensibilities – and yet the film was still very much a “part one”, the end credits rolling precisely midway through Herbert’s novel. If Part One was primarily focused on painstakingly establishing its characters and conflicts, then Part Two sees Villeneuve knocking down the dominoes in exhilarating fashion, magnificently paying off the first film’s setup and masterfully balancing all the moving parts that are now in place. It surpasses the first film’s already spectacular technical achievements, offering some of the grandest scale and spectacle in recent cinematic memory, and delivers a more narratively engaging and satisfying experience as well. It’s everything a great sequel should be: bigger, bolder, and deepening our relationship to the world that’s been established. 

As expected, there’s a lot going on in Dune: Part Two, picking up almost precisely where the first film left off. Our ostensible hero Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), after escaping a coup by the fascistic ruling Harkonnen family that killed Paul’s father and dashed House Atreides’ hopes of ruling planet Arrakis, have found themselves stranded in Arrakis’ vast deserts, where they fall in with the planet’s indigenous Fremen people. Despite Paul’s naivete and lack of experience, the Fremen view him as the chosen one to lead them in fighting back against the Harkonnens. With Paul as their leader, the Fremen believe they’ll be able to take back their colonized home and regain control of Arrakis’ valuable “spice” economy. Meanwhile, Part Two introduces the political mechanisms of the galaxy beyond Arrakis, where the emperor of the galaxy (Christopher Walken) distances himself from the conflicts between worlds, and his daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) navigates the political scheming. Over on the Harkonnens’ home planet Giedi Prime, we are introduced to Harkonnen heir Feyd-Rautha (an impeccably creepy Austin Butler), who battles opponents to the death gladiator-style in a massive arena while firework displays explode under the planet’s black sun. There’s also the interplanetary Bene Gesserit sisterhood – of which Jessica and Irulan are a part – who are trying to put their psychic powers to use to ensure that Paul is the prophesied Kwisatz Haderach, or ruler of the universe. It’s a lot to keep track of, but Villeneuve seamlessly balances all the moving parts of these different planets, keeping the pace flowing smoothly and centering the heart of the story in Arrakis. 

Dune: Part Two’s greatest strength lies in how it surpasses its predecessor’s spectacle and scale while deepening its emotional stakes and character depth. Villeneuve nails the almost Shakespearean tragedy of Paul’s arc, as he transforms from a naive and impetuous teenager to an egomaniacal leader drunk off his newfound power, unaware of the consequences his actions will have on the entire universe. Chalamet also matches the challenge of portraying Paul in his most impressive turn as a leading man yet, tapping into a truly intimidating register in the film’s later scenes and conveying the fascinating contradictions of the character. Part Two further expands on characters who we only got limited glimpses of in the first film – most notably Fremen woman Chani (Zendaya), who primarily appeared in Part One as a figure in Paul’s premonitions, now providing an emotional core as Paul’s confidant and love interest who gradually becomes ambivalent to Paul’s transformation. The film’s new additions also bring a great deal to the table particularly Butler’s delightfully perverse and feral energy that contrasts the mannered, calculating evil of his uncle Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård, returning from the first film).

And above all, Dune: Part Two is simply a showcase of grand, spectacular, maximalist blockbuster filmmaking at its finest. Practically every sequence offers up a new breathtaking visual idea or indelible image: soldiers floating up mountains with jetpacks, massive nuclear explosions, large-scale battles, and, of course, enormous sandworms, all in an overwhelming IMAX format. Villeneuve’s aesthetic of brutalist architecture and muted colors may seem like it would diminish the strangeness of Herbert’s material, but all the idiosyncrasies of the source material are still intact, seamlessly woven into the rigidity and sharpness of Villeneuve’s visual approach. Taken together with Part One, what Villeneuve has pulled off with his Dune films is an astounding feat of adaptation and a towering achievement in big-budget Hollywood spectacle. At a time when the fate of mainstream, big-studio fare seems more uncertain than ever, it’s a gift to see something so unwaveringly committed to a singular vision on such a grand scale. 

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