Movie Review | ‘Dune: Part Two’ 

click to enlarge From left, Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya in "Dune: Part Two."


From left, Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya in "Dune: Part Two."

In 2021, Director Denis Villeneuve went to great lengths to establish the world of Arrakis in "Dune." The sequel, now open in theaters, allows that world to finally come alive — "Dune: Part Two" operates as a continuation, rather than a sequel.

With “Dune,” Villeneuve (who co-writes with Jon Spaihts, based on the Frank Herbert novel) produced a two-and-a-half hour expository slog through the sands of Arrakis. It introduced the characters, but never introduced why anyone besides "Dune" enthusiasts should care about the world on screen. "Dune" ran the gamut of visually stunning but emotionally distant, proving good special effects can only carry a movie so far. "Dune: Part Two" allows for more depth and insight into the characters, while providing the same level of awe-inspiring images on screen.

"Dune: Part Two" picks up in the aftermath of the first movie. Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) are forced to contend with the murder of Paul's father (Oscar Isaac) in the first movie. In teaming up with the Fremen, led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem), Paul's relationship with Chani (Zendaya) continues to grow into something more romantic. There's a lot of pressure on Paul, who is a supposed messiah, and he looks to Chani to keep him grounded when the events on Arrakis grow dire.

The plot of "Dune: Part Two" is expectedly dense, but on its face the narrative is a straightforward good-versus-bad storyline. Even so, "Dune: Part Two" is a much more engaging film than its predecessor. Through a familiar narrative outline, Villeneuve is able to wring more nuance, layers and tension out of this film over the Arrakis meet-and-greet first film.

Fresh off of his Oscar-nominated title role in "Elvis," Austin Butler plays Feyd-Rautha, the new villain of the series. Feyd-Rautha is the nephew of Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård, reprising his role from the first movie) and cousin of Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista, also returning from the first installment). From the moment the first still of Butler's pale baldhead was released in the lead up to "Dune: Part Two" there was a great deal of anticipation surrounding his villain character. Like several other actors (including new additions Christopher Walken and Florence Pugh) in "Dune: Part Two," Butler's character doesn't have enough real estate on screen, but when he's in the frame his presence is entirely menacing. Butler clearly relishes every moment in playing such a deranged character.

As the focal point of the story, Chalamet fits more comfortably into the role of Paul this time around. While his appearance and demeanor was initially an awkward fit for a sci-fi epic, Chalamet is a performer of great emotional depth (as shown in his Oscar-nominated turn in "Call Me by Your Name”). He has more to play off in "Dune: Part Two" and feels settled into the character.

"Dune" was released at a precarious time in 2021. Warner Brothers shocked the industry by deciding to release its entire theatrical slate in theaters and on then-HBO Max on the same day. What life cycle could a movie have when there's an option to sit home, hit play and then move on with your life? Despite making over $400 million worldwide and receiving 10 Oscar nominations (winning six), "Dune" feels like it got lost in a mid-pandemic vortex. For hardcore fans, dissenters and all those in between, "Dune: Part Two" will have a chance to give the franchise its big theatrical moment.

As a property, "Dune” feels more niche than universal, but it's coming at a time when established properties (particularly superhero movies) are failing to find an audience in theaters. Moviegoers crave spectacle, and "Dune: Part Two" is ready to deliver.

“Dune: Part Two” is currently playing in theaters.

Matt Passantino is a contributing writer to CITY. Feedback about this article can be directed to [email protected].
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