Dune: Part Two (2024) Review

Dune: Part Two fulfills the prophesied hype. Is Denis Villeneuve the cinematic Kwisatz Haderach?

As much as I did enjoy Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE (Part One), it’s fair to say I had a couple of gripes. One was that, despite the shiny newness afforded by modern special effects, I didn’t feel like it showed me anything new that David Lynch’s 1980s one hadn’t already shown me. The other was that the pacing was slow to the point of glacial. With DUNE PART TWO, both of these complaints were addressed – and how.

With House Atreides all but wiped from existence and the Harkonnens back in control of Arrakis, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) joins with the Fremen to wage a guerilla war against their oppressors all while grappling with the weight and inevitability of a prophecy that pulls him towards a blood-soaked destiny of galactic proportions.

Where DUNE PART ONE moved with all the alacrity of the slow erosion of a mountainside, DUNE PART TWO explodes forth with the ferocity and kinetic energy of a sandstorm, throwing a maelstrom of plot threads, character arcs and stunning visuals against the screen, sandblasting the audience with a scale and scope that matches the literary grandeur of the source material.

The meticulous patience with which PART ONE laid the groundwork pays off here as it allows the spiritual and political complexities of DUNE to ascend on the backs of the cast and their pitch-perfect performances. Chalamet is a revelation as he, at first reluctantly and then with a disturbingly implacable zealotry, essays Paul’s struggles with accepting and embracing his destiny, balanced all the while by Chani (Zendeya), offering a pragmatic, almost humanist resistance to the burgeoning messiah complex of her beloved. Although occasionally somewhat lost in all the gnomic mysticism, Rebecca Ferguson’s Lady Jessica brings gravitas and a cold ruthlessness to her Bene Gesserit machinations as she pushes and cajoles Paul and his followers to fully embrace what is to come. There’s also a savagely sly comic undertone to the whole thing provided by Javier Bardem’s Stilgar who’s contorted rationalisations in the face of a flurry of confirmations and refutations provides a sharp satire of the craven credulity of religious fanaticism, bordering on playing out an absurdist farce akin to “Carry On Kwisatz Haderach”.

Oblivious to the rising messianic menace, the forces of House Harkonnen seem less invincible this time round. Raban (Dave Bautista) is increasingly fallible in the face of the Fremen rebellion, finally giving an opening for Feyd-Ruatha (Austin Butler) to take centre stage. Introduced in a stunningly realised monochromatic sequence, the character exudes a menace that never really feels like it sufficiently pays off, Ruafa’s appearances and final confrontation teetering on the brink of anticlimactic. Demonstrating that however you approach the text, the transition from page to screen requires an unavoidable measure of inelegant exposition, Villeneuve opts for the same approach as the studios forced on Lynch all those years ago: having Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) provide bridging narration. Pugh fits well with the cast aesthetic and certainly better than veteran Christopher Walken who unfortunately stands out like an off bit of stunt casting in an otherwise meticulously assembled motion picture.

When you pause to consider all the pieces and elements balanced with and against each other, Villeneuve’s achievement with DUNE: PART TWO becomes all the more impressive. It’s a lengthy movie at just shy of the three-hour mark and yet it never once feels like it. It’s packed with action and spectacle and yet boasts an abundance of deeply developed characters and layered performances backed by Hans Zimmer rising to the challenge with a score for the ages. While its denouement ironically feels a little rushed, it is, at least, unashamed of its own open-endedness, revealing in its closing moments the ultimate vision of DUNE: PART TWO as the middle chapter of a cinematic trilogy, a trilogy for which the concluding chapter can’t come soon enough.