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Dune: Part Two offers a masterful balance of razzle-dazzle and thoughtfully conceived narrative

Dune: Part Two offers a masterful balance of razzle-dazzle and thoughtfully conceived narrative
Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya in 'Dune: Part Two'. Image: Supplied / Warner Bros. Pictures

Acclaimed filmmaker Denis Villeneuve continues his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s work in sci-fi epic and sequel Dune: Part Two. Best experienced on Imax and other giant-format screens, this is blockbuster entertainment done right, combining an ultra-polished surface with substance under its all-star skin.

Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison, but Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two feels like the kind of sci-fi epic that fellow filmmaker Zack Snyder was trying to make with his Rebel Moon. The difference is that while both directors deliver visual moments that brand themselves into audience memory, Villeneuve’s “cool” shots always have a context and are well considered, just as they were in his Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival. They don’t exist solely as disconnected trailer bait.

As blockbuster science fiction goes, it’s hard to fault Dune: Part Two, which gains extra knuckled impact from the way it parallels ongoing conflict on our global stage. Although, for the record, the film was initially set for release in November last year.

A direct continuation from 2021’s Dune, Dune: Part Two adapts the second half of Frank Herbert’s highly influential 1965 novel. With most of the exposition delivered in the first movie, which lumbered at times, Part Two comes across instead as one of Dune’s giant sandworms – a powerful, sleek and fast-moving beast that keeps the audience engaged for its 168-minute running time.

While the sequel doesn’t invite in new viewers, or anyone unfamiliar with Herbert’s work, it is a noticeable improvement over its predecessor in terms of tightness and sustained energy. It slices away the cumbersome fat present in its source material, and reduces the number of tiresome, trippy dream sequences.

In Dune: Part Two, young nobleman Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) prove themselves and find a home among the Fremen, the fierce, desert-dwelling tribes of planet Arrakis.

This harsh world produces “the spice”, a mineral resource vital for space travel and commerce, making its control hotly contested. It’s not about power for Paul though. He wants revenge against rival House Harkonnen – headed by Stellan Skarsgård’s repulsive Baron, and his nephews (played by Dave Bautista and Austin Butler) – who colluded with the Emperor (Christopher Walken) to destroy House Atreides and kill Paul’s father Leto when the latter took stewardship of Arrakis.

These are powerful motivators, but following disturbing visions, Paul is reluctant to exploit local beliefs that he is a prophesied saviour. In this, he aligns with Chani (Zendaya), a Fremen warrior who insists her people, not an off-worlder, must free themselves from the oppressive and increasingly genocidal Harkonnens.

 

Timothée Chalamet Dune: Part Two

Timothée Chalamet reprises his role as young nobleman Paul Atreides in Dune: Part Two. (Image: Warner Bros Pictures)

Florence Pugh portrays an armoured Princess Irulan. (Image: Warner Bros Pictures)

Zendaya and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune: Part Two

Rebecca Ferguson (Jessica Atreides) is a mother in scheming survival mode while Zendaya (Chani) brings fire and heart to her scene. (Image: Warner Bros Pictures)

A successful marriage of plan and reality means compromise, though, and that’s one of the ways that Dune: Part Two shines thematically. While the film overtly tackles subjects such as the ease with which religious fundamentalism can be exploited (for both destruction and passivity), it also presents audiences with more subtle considerations.

Here is a film where the villains are horrific, but the heroes too are tarnished to a degree, manipulating – and sometimes straight-up mind-controlling – to get what they want. It gives Dune: Part Two extra meditative meat that you don’t expect of blockbuster Hollywood fare with a nearly $200 million budget.

Speaking of spend, Dune: Part Two has used its financial resources to maximum effect. Again, it’s impressive but not present solely as eye candy to enjoy as you simultaneously stuff popcorn in your mouth.

Thoughtful costuming and make-up choices convey the differences between this complex universe’s many rival factions, as well as individual character evolution. For example, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), the Emperor’s daughter, becomes more armoured the further she advances towards her mandated political role. Then there’s the nightmarish homeworld of House Harkonnen, where even the sun and sky are as corrupt as the planet’s inhabitants. 

The detail put into Dune: Part Two should be experienced on giant-format screens, which come with the added benefit of superior audio. The film is the best use of bone-shaking Imax sound since Oppenheimer. Part Two also fortunately seems to have overcome the balance issues present in the first Dune – which ruined delivery of the famous Litany Against Fear. 

Stellan Skarsgård in Dune: Part Two

Stellan Skarsgård plays the repulsive Baron Harkonnen. (Image: Warner Bros Pictures)

Javier Bardem’s Fremen leader Stilgar counters the film’s dramatic intensity with a dose of humour. (Image: Warner Bros Pictures)

Josh Brolin in ‘Dune: Part Two’. Image: Supplied / Warner Bros. Pictures

Dave Bautista in ‘Dune: Part Two’. Image: Supplied / Warner Bros. Pictures

Javier Bardem in ‘Dune: Part Two’. Image: Supplied / Warner Bros. Pictures

Austin Butler in ‘Dune: Part Two’. Image: Supplied / Warner Bros. Pictures

For all the optical and aural razzle-dazzle in Dune: Part Two, the performances aren’t drowned out. While some characters in the large ensemble lack development, standing more as archetypes, the actors are given space to interact and carry this epic to the end credits. Chalamet succeeds in the difficult task of making Paul a Chosen One who is never obnoxiously brilliant or resistant to his destiny, while Zendaya brings fire and heart to every scene. Meanwhile, Ferguson is a mother in scheming survival mode, no matter the cost, and Javier Bardem’s Fremen leader Stilgar delivers a surprising amount of humour as a reprieve from the film’s dramatic intensity.

The way that Dune: Part Two balances its elements, managing to be both rousing and reflective, is masterful. The film’s cliffhanger ending feels a bit presumptive, opening the door to more sequels – which are positioned to explore untouched elements from Herbert’s book, as well as follow-on Dune Messiah. However, as that’s the only major gripe, it’s easy to conclude that you don’t get much better big-screen sci-fi than this. Sorry, Zack Snyder. DM

Dune: Part Two is in South African cinemas, including Imax and Xtreme, from 1 March.

'Dune: Part Two'. Image: Supplied / Warner Bros. Pictures

‘Dune: Part Two’. Image: Supplied / Warner Bros. Pictures

This story was first published on PFangirl.com.

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  • Scott Gordon says:

    Hmmm a huge fan of Dune , the books .
    felt the first film was not entirely true to the book .
    Calling the 2nd movie Dune 2 is not inspiring 🙂
    Making films even close to the books is close to impossible 🙂
    Looking forward to seeing the movie , in Imax would be awesome .
    Will there be more films to come as we follow the ‘ life or Paul ‘ 🙂
    Hope so 🙂
    Ride that worm 🙂

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