The Movie Waffler New to VOD - DUNE: PART TWO | The Movie Waffler


Paul Atreides leads the Fremen on a quest for vengeance.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

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

Dune: Part Two poster

Denis Villeneuve's 2021 adaptation of roughly the first half of Frank Herbert's hugely influential sci-fi novel Dune was made with no guarantees that we would ever receive a conclusion to the story. Thankfully the movie proved enough of a commercial success for Villeneuve to be allowed to reassemble his cast and crew in the desert for Part Two. While it concludes an adaptation of the first book in Herbert's saga, it's very much a middle chapter, with a somewhat open ending that sets up a potential adaptation of Herbert's follow-up novel, 'Dune Messiah'.

The movie has much in common with another middle chapter of a space opera trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, or perhaps The Empire Strikes Back has much in common with Herbert's novel. Like Empire, Dune: Part Two sees its heroes in hiding after suffering a defeat at the hands of their enemies. The first film concluded with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), joining up with a tribe of Fremen, some of whom are convinced that Paul is the Messiah that has been prophesied to lead them to paradise. This faction is lead by Stilgar (Javier Bardem), a fanatic who views every action of Paul's, no matter how trivial, as proof of his messianic status. Bardem delivers an often hilarious performance as the film pokes fun at how fundamentalists will see proof of their beliefs wherever they look.

Dune: Part Two review

Far more skeptical is Chani (Zendaya), a young Fremen girl who doesn't believe in Paul the messiah but nevertheless falls in love with Paul the man. Prompted by visions enhanced by his exposure to spice, Paul begins to believe that his role is to lead the Fremen to greatness, which in his mind will begin with taking revenge against Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) for the killing of his father. This sets him down a dark path and tests his relationship with Chani.

You can clearly see the influence of Dune on George Lucas, as Paul's arc here is essentially that of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. Lucas allowed himself a whole trilogy to pull off this transition (though the jury's out on whether he did so successfully), whereas Villeneuve is forced to do so in one movie. As such it does feel a tad rushed. We don't get to spend enough time with Paul in heroic mode for his turn to the dark side to have a substantial impact. The same goes for Lady Jessica's arc. Elsewhere there are characters that are set up as major figures that get lost in the mix as Villeneuve tries to wrap up the main plotline of Herbert's book. In hindsight this probably should have been a trilogy of three 2 hrs 15 mins movies rather than two 2 hrs 45 mins movies, and watching this play out highlights the insanity of Dino De Laurentiis believing David Lynch could cover all this in a single movie.

The rushing of character arcs is really the only complaint however, as Villeneuve has crafted a gripping space opera that heavily channels the biblical epics of the 1950s and '60s. Those movies were made at a time when the western world hadn't yet been exposed to the full horrors of religious fundamentalism, so Chalamet is essaying a very different protagonist here to those once played by Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas. In pitting the imperial forces of the Harkonnen against fundamentalists, the film becomes eerily relatable as an allegory for the modern world with its conflicts that make it difficult to take a side.

Dune: Part Two review

Villeneuve ups the action factor in this follow-up with a couple of outrageously well executed set-pieces. Much of the film's opening act mirrors the Hoth sequence of Empire as the Harkonnens arrive in the desert with their superior technology. While there's certainly plenty of CG utilised, you always feel you're watching a battle play out in the desert rather than a bunch of actors prance around in front of a green screen in a warehouse. The story's theme of a people who have rejected artificial intelligence makes it all the more relatable as most of the technology we see here isn't all that far from what's currently available in our own world. When a character is mowed down by bullets fired from a chopper-like craft that instantly conjures up images of atrocities in Vietnam, it carries significantly more weight than had they met their demise by a laser ray.

Villeneuve's grounded approach - which has far more in common with the elegance and splendour of mid 20th century Hollywood epics than the CG filled and shaky cam heavy efforts of recent decades - also serves to make the film's supernatural moments all the more magical. There's a scene in which a shaman type figure tames a young sandworm that on paper is pretty unremarkable, but in execution it feels as real as those YouTube videos of Thai children grappling with cobras.

Dune: Part Two review

Something else to be greatly appreciated is Villeneuve's astute decision to refuse to explain the finer points of the film's world to the audience. When a new piece of tech is introduced it's simply presented without the need to fill the viewer in on how exactly it works. When the Harkonnen troops begin to hover in a manner that allows them to fly across small distances, Villeneuve allows us to gasp in our own heads rather than having some character make the comment for us (yes, I'm looking at you Rise of Skywalker). When a gladiatorial duel is held in a vast arena that casts a monochrome sheen over everything, we're not given any pointless explanation to justify such a visual choice. We're simply allowed to watch in wonder.

With a combined running time of close to six hours, Villeneuve has forged an epic that will fill many a future Sunday afternoon. This second part's Empire-esque ending suggests you might need to block off some Sunday evenings too. Let's hope Hollywood has enough faith in Villeneuve by now to give him some extra room to fully realise the next chapter of this spicy saga.

Dune: Part Two is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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