Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Dune: Part Two. A Review (Review #1800)



I start by saying that I loved Dune: Part One. I've seen it four times. So far, I have seen Dune: Part Two merely twice. Epic, grand, surprisingly less bogged down with worldbuilding, Dune: Part Two is at the same level as the first part, though perhaps with a less stronger reason to go to a Part Three.

The great houses of the universe, along with the Emperor (Christopher Walken) and his daughter, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) believe that House Atreides is extinguished, all the members having died on the desert planet Arrakis, better known as Dune. Unbeknown to them or Atreides sworn enemy, House Harkonnen, there are two survivors of House Atreides. There is now-Duke Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, the Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). They are adapting to the desert world and that of Arrakis' native population, the Fremen.

Paul is now slowly winning the heart of Fremen warrior Chani (Zendaya), while training with Stilgar (Javier Bardem) in the ways of the Fremen. Stilgar comes to believe that Paul is the Mahdi, the long-prophesied Messiah to lead the Fremen to a paradise. Chani is more dubious, as is Paul himself. The Lady Jessica, however, who is now the Reverend Mother to the Northern Fremen, believes that he can be the Messiah. She has surprising support from her unborn daughter, Alia, who has great powers after the Lady Jessica drank from the Water of Life, which transferred the knowledge of the past Reverend Mothers to her.

The Emperor and the Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) become alarmed at the rise of a mysterious Fremen called Muad'Dib. He is leading a rebellion on Arrakis that will interrupt the lucrative and needed spice trade. The Baron sends his psychotic nephew Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) to take control of Arrakis. Feyd-Rautha is a potential Kwisatz Haderach, the great being who can be a male Bene Gesserit (the hereto female-only order which has been controlling things behind the scenes). The war between the rebellious Fremen and the Emperor/Harkonnen alliance comes to a climax when Paul, revealed as Muad'Dib and a potential Messiah, battles Feyd-Ratha for not just Arrakis but for the known universe. It is the start of a holy war, one where marriages of convenience and alliances shift like the sands of Dune.

Dune: Part Two is a long film at close to three hours. To the credit of director and cowriter Denis Villeneuve (writing with Jon Spaihts), the film rarely feels sluggish. Things move along remarkably well.

The performances, particularly from the newcomers, are excellent. Butler is the best of the new group, his Feyd-Ratha a menacing, monstrous figure. He dominates with his cruel, psychotic performance. Moreover, Butler does well in capturing what must be the Harkonnen voice, this guttural, whispering voice that is scratchy but dark and cruel. 

Pugh does well as Princess Irulan, though she suffers due to a diminished role. Faring worse is Walken, who is wasted in almost a cameo. While it is more than likely that Walken and especially Pugh have expanded roles in a Dune: Part Three, I think their roles could have been expanded.

Those returning from Dune: Part One also gave stronger, richer performances than their first going. Chalamet grew into this warrior figure, one who still struggles with assuming the mantle of Messiah. Does he believe that he could be the Mahdi? Is he using this prophesy to move on his plans to overthrow the Emperor and assume both power and revenge? Chalamet never lets us fully figure out one way or the other, keeping the mystery intact.

Dune: Part Two does well in balancing out the struggle between faith and doubt with the characters of Stilgar and Chani. Bardem brings the true believer's unquestioning faith that Paul is the Chosen One, even bringing a bit of humor when he insists that Paul saying that he isn't the One is proof that he is. Zendaya counters him with a firm belief that while Paul is a good man, he is using the prophesy to keep the Fremen under his thumb. Ferguson brings an almost terrifying manner to Lady Jessica, a mixture of power-mad with almost fanatical belief in Paul.

The film also has excellent production all around. The sets, the costumes, the cinematography and Hans Zimmer's score all work to create this grand universe so separate from our own. Of particular note is when Paul rides the conqueror worm. The visuals and sound all make this sequence a spectacular sequence, especially when we get Paul's POV. 

Zimmer's music is both grand and intimate, particularly in its love theme. He has this vaguely Arabic style, one that works extraordinarily well with the desert world. Greig Foster's cinematography is also exceptional, going from the vast deserts of Arrakis to the dark world of the Harkonnen planet, Giedi Prime. 

Where I think Dune: Part Two struggles is in its length. Somehow, I think too much time is spent on Arrakis and less on the political machinations of both the Emperor & Harkonnen alliance as well as the works of the malevolent Bene Gesserit order. It is well over an hour before we start getting much about the imperial plots with the Harkonnen. The final confrontation between Feyd-Ratha and Paul Atreides, while visually splendid and well-choreographed, almost feels hurried. The battle between the Fremen and the joint-Imperial/Harkonnen legions does feel rushed, as if it were something to get through versus the culmination of this epic space saga.

Those are minor points. I think even those who were not enamored of Dune: Part One will find much to admire, if not love, in Dune: Part Two. As there is a strong likelihood that there will be a Dune: Part Three, this film will serve as a bridge between them. Whether it should be a bridge or the conclusion is still a subject of debate. Grand, epic, if perhaps longer than it should be, Dune: Part Two will thrill fans without leaving nonbelievers totally frozen out.


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