The Daily Gamecock

Review: 'Dune: Part Two' turns viewers into believers with epic scale, stunning visuals

"Dune: Part Two", is a science fiction epic that captivates viewers with its sights and sounds, improving on its predecessor in a variety of ways, aided by a strong cast that expertly convey an imperfect, but effective narrative.

<p>A photo illustration of a computer screen shows information for the movie "Dune: Part Two" on April 3, 2024. The film is the second of a two-part adaptation of the novel "Dune" published by Frank Herbert in 1965.</p>
A photo illustration of a computer screen shows information for the movie "Dune: Part Two" on April 3, 2024. The film is the second of a two-part adaptation of the novel "Dune" published by Frank Herbert in 1965.

Movie: “Dune: Part Two”

Release Date: March 1, 2024

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Runtime: 2 hours, 46 minutes

Genre: Sci-Fi/Action

Rating: B+

B+ Rating Graphic - Stock

“Dune: Part Two” follows up on 2021’s “Dune: Part One,” completing Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s behemoth novel. The story, set on planet Arrakis, follows Paul Atreides, a young nobleman on a quest for revenge and power against his enemies, the Harkonnens. He does so with the help of the desert-dwelling natives the Fremen, who are divided over whether Paul is their fabled messiah or a malicious false prophet.

“Part Two” is a technical achievement. Full of stunning visuals, striking imagery, incredible scale and sound and mostly strong performances, it adds up to an immersive and exciting experience, even if the emotional aspects are sometimes as dry as the sands of Arrakis.

The film has an intricate and absorbing narrative, with many powerful, arresting sequences, but some key moments can leave one wanting to see more of what happened off-screen. The plot’s progression occasionally feels abrupt and rushed despite the nearly three-hour runtime.

“Part Two" picks up right where the first film left off, with Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson’s Lady Jessica acclimating to life in the deserts of Arrakis and working to earn the trust of the mysterious Fremen.

They're led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem), who believes Paul is the prophesized “Lisan al Gaib,” the messiah that will bring glory back to the Fremen and restore life to the barren Arrakis. Another key member of the Fremen is Chani (Zendaya) who serves as a moral compass for Paul throughout much of the story, struggling to reconcile her love for him with her suspicions about his true goals.

Chalamet does well in the role of Paul and sells the character's ruthless rise to power, portraying him as conniving and confident. The viewer can understand how Paul is able to manipulate the Fremen into furthering his goals thanks to Chalamet’s acting.

Zendaya and Bardem are given much more to do in this film than in its predecessor, and the results are excellent. Bardem arguably gives the best performance of the film. His fanaticism towards Paul is funny in the early story, but also a powerful statement on the dangers that level of devotion can lead to, once things take a darker turn.

Zendaya's Chani is the emotional core of the story. She has agency and strength in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in a slavishly loyal adaptation of Herbert’s novel. Villeneuve and co-writer Jon Spaihts made smart changes to her role that enhance both the character and the overall story. 

On the other side of the fight for control of Arrakis and its spice are the forces of Emperor Shaddam IV and Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Spice is a drug that enhances a users senses and is extremely valuable, a fact of which we are very often verbally reminded. 

Stellan Skarsgård nails his role again, making the Baron an intimidating and unnerving presence throughout the film. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Christopher Walken, who plays Shaddam IV. The intent that the emperor is supposed to be a weak-willed puppet of a monarch is understood, but Walken’s performance simply does not achieve that effect. It’s low-energy and dull, and it feels like a casting choice that was made based on Walken’s status rather than his suitability for the role.

Fortunately, that problem doesn’t come up with the baron’s sadistic nephew, Feyd-Rautha, played by Austin Butler, following his breakthrough role in "Elvis."

Feyd-Rautha’s introduction is set within a massive arena on the Harkonnen’s home planet, where weakened opponents are sent to be executed by Feyd-Rautha for his and the crowd's entertainment. This is one of, if not the, best scene in the entire movie. The sequence is a showcase of Greig Fraser’s masterful cinematography, with it being entirely in black and white.

The scene gave Butler the chance to make his delightfully sociopathic character’s presence felt throughout the film, which he masterfully achieves despite a frustrating lack of screen time.

The other scene in contention for the film’s best is when Paul mounts and travels on a sandworm, a massive, highly dangerous worm that roams under the desert. This sequence works incredibly well on multiple levels. It looks amazing, contains by far the most memorable track in the score and convincingly solidifies a key plot development.

The ending is unfortunately where the biggest issues with “Part Two” become noticeable. Events feel rushed and overly convenient to the plot, asking the viewer to care about the fates and understand the motivations of characters they barely know. The result is oddly anticlimactic, but still an effective and exciting finale that delivers an important message about the dangers of charismatic leaders, thanks to the cast and visual effects.

Villeneuve does make one key alteration to the novel's ending that was a great choice. But it also begs the question, why couldn’t more changes have been made to improve the rushed climax and facilitate more character development?

“Dune: Part Two” is a noticeable improvement on the well-crafted first film that immerses viewers in a fully realized world and a reliably engaging narrative. “Part Two” is a bold technical showcase that, even if it is far from perfect, deserves immense respect and is an example of what all big-budget directors should strive to achieve.


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