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Dune: Part Two ★★★★★



Release: 1st March 2024

Director: Denis Villeneuve

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

“This is only the beginning,” says Chani (Zendaya) at the end of Dune: Part One. For those familiar with Frank Herbert’s epic book, we knew, going into Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited sequel, of the expectation to come – beat for beat. Yet even with that prior knowledge and the darker territory it embarks on, nothing quite prepares you for what you’re about to see – sandworms and all.

Villeneuve – unapologetically – crafts a cinematic masterpiece with Dune: Part Two, instantly reminding us of the power of cinema as an artform and why we love grandiose spectacles like Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings. As a sci-fi and fantasy fan, these films challenge our imaginations as we lose ourselves to the operatic mythology of other worlds and cultures beyond our own. And buried within its immense subtext is a fascinating richness of nuance and depth for its characters that questions the essence of our human nature. Dune – without question – answers that call in abundance. This sequel is a darker, twisted and complex beast that surpasses Part One in every way.

There’s a great reward in watching Villeneuve accomplish his lifelong dream with Dune. It’s an impressive track record when you chart his filmography: Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario, to name a few. But science fiction is where he has found his home. The exponential growth between Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 and now the Dune chapters is astonishing, and similar to Christopher Nolan, the cinematic canvas is pushed to ambitious levels with each film. What makes Villeneuve’s direction special is his ability to explore the human condition. In getting the best out of his actors, the characters in that exploration are all on a destined quest, wrestling with the nature of fate and prophecy, be it understanding their dreams (Amy Adams in Arrival), unearthing a secret past (Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049) or becoming ‘The One’ (Timothée Chalamet in Dune). In a genre primed for subversion, the legacy of their journey always has a consequential price.

If there were complaints that Part One felt like an immersive indulgence of a three-course dinner but leaving with only “half the meal”, then splitting Herbert’s book into two films now feels justified (a luxury David Lynch did not receive when making the 1984 cult classic). With such extensive mythological material to cover, the sequel script – written by Villeneuve and ​​Jon Spaihts – allows for Part Two to hit the ground running knowing the first film did the heavy lifting to set the stage.

Picking up where we left off on Arrakis, the house of Atreides (including Oscar Isaacs’ Duke Leto) has been wiped out after the massacre at Arrakeen and Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) take refuge amongst the Fremen clan led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem). With Jessica assuming her new role as Reverend Mother, Paul trains and learns the ways of the Fremen, seeking revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family.

On a technical level, Dune continues to push the envelope with its awe-inspiring scale and production design for the IMAX format. Greig Fraser’s breathtaking cinematography delights in creating visual and poetic distinction with shadows, particularly on the monochrome world of Ghedi Prime – the Harkonnen homeworld. Joe Walker’s editing perfectly balances between action and dramatic tension, never allowing the film’s 2-hour and 46-minute runtime to feel its weight. The sound design is one-of-a-kind when a thumper can sound like the heartbeat of the sands, or the “voice” can hauntingly come from various speaker directions. The VFX is sublime, and Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer and his synth-based score (fewer bagpipes this time around) deliver the film’s soul. And it all culminates into some incredible action sequences – a particular highlight involves Paul riding the sandworm for the first time, and the audience is right there beside him in that immersion.

But at the heart of Part Two is its compelling story. Villeneuve and Spaihts’ Arabic-infused script begins with a statement – “Power over spice is power over all”, continuing themes of oppression and subjugation. Villeneuve steeps his audience in the action from the get-go, showing guerilla tactics used by the Fremen to avoid detection in the sand (with an outstanding set-piece involving the Harkonnens ‘floating’ out of sandworm danger) to the bombing raids reminiscent of ‘The War on Terror’ campaign and the countless wars fought in history over natural resources.  Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista) showcases the impact of demonising language when referring to the Fremen as “rats”. Even in one hilarious scene (showing the extent of colonialist belief), Chani – a native Fremen – looks upon Paul in disbelief when he questions the proper way to sandwalk. But where Dune: Part Two takes a shadowy turn is its look into religious fanaticism as a weapon to dominate over others. With the Fremen’s desire to see Arrakis become a “green paradise”, the Bene Gesserit’s socio-political and moral manipulation of the bloodline fulfils a greater role in Part Two. The power of faith presents a murky subversion of the ‘white saviour’ trope, with Paul positioned as a prophet leader. The real-world parallels of power and control are unmistakable here, further illustrating the relevancy of Herbert’s work in modern culture.

What makes this film special is the career-defining performance of Chalamet. Figuratively and literally, there’s a significant weight placed upon Chalamet’s shoulders in leading a franchise and for the adventurous story Dune embarks on. In the first film – an intergalactic ‘coming of age’ film – it was Paul understanding his place in the world, duelling between being a dutiful son to his father and a destiny shaped before him beyond his control, thanks to his mother and Charlotte Rampling’s Reverend Mother Mohiam. For its sequel, Paul’s conflict and inner turmoil in fulfilling the prophecy comes at odds with his assimilation into the Fremen culture (including taking on the ‘Muad’Dib’ title in his name). The beauty of Chalamet’s multilayered performance is his sincerity for the role. He’s still the ‘reluctant hero’, troubled by visions of a terrible future. But emotionally – as the film charts a path towards all-out war with Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken) and The Harkonnens – his arc is a full circle moment, with devastating consequences waiting to be unleashed.

Not to be left out of the conversation, Zendaya is equally outstanding as co-lead. With more to do this time around, Chani is the beating heartbeat of Part Two with her fierce and commanding perspective that actively questions the nature of blind faith leadership amidst the Fremen’s path to freedom. Her alliance with Paul and subsequent love for him is the added complication that inevitably raises the stakes.

The stacked cast featuring Christopher Walken, Léa Seydoux and Josh Brolin does suffer from limited screen time, however, there are a few exceptions. Florence Pugh’s Princess Irulan mirrors the book, introducing the film with a helpful recap of events. In addition, Rebecca Ferguson remains exceptional as she enacts the film’s scheming master plan, while Austin Butler delivers a superb menacing turn as the psychotic Feyd-Rautha. But it is Bardem’s Stilgar who steals the show, adding humour and levity as a resolute believer in Paul’s ultimate destiny.

Dune: Part Two is a momentous, jaw-dropping and masterful achievement in cinema that stakes its claim to be the best film of 2024. We may have had to wait for its release due to the Writers’ and Actors’ strike, but it was worth the wait. Epics come once in a lifetime, especially of this scale, scope, vision and craft. If Denis and his creative team get the green light to adapt Dune: Messiah, we could be witnessing the next best sci-fi trilogy on our hands. 

Now that’s what I call desert power!

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