‘Dune: Part Two’ Review: Substance Catches Up To Style in Compelling Sequel

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Dune: Part Two (2024) © Warner Bros.

In its baroque, near-Biblical beauty, the second entry in Denis Villeneueve’s space opera commits so fully to breath-catching imagery that one is almost loath to move on so quickly from one frame to the next. Yet where Part One seemed an almost exclusively aesthetic project, the craft now feels in service to the dense-yet-lucid narrative and thematic sprawl, amplifying an unexpectedly sharp look at belief as a weapon of mass control.

★★★

In its first instalment, the most proudly strange of our new mega-franchises set the tone and scale for what was to come. Still, in its feverish race towards an unguaranteed future, there was both hurry and hesitation. As if in fear of a mass exodus from the audience the moment the words ‘Kwisatz Haderach’ were spoken aloud, Part One seemed able only to sprint down the corridors of its vast world, giving the audience a glimpse of the eerie, telepathic Bene Gesserit sisterhood and the gothic grotesquerie of evil House Harkonnen, but unable to stop and take in the view.

Now, with the expositional legwork largely done, Villeneuve (along with director of photography Greig Fraser) is free not merely to gesture towards the larger universe of Frank Herbert’s source material, but to fully inhabit it. For some, the stentorian solemnity with which it does so will be off-putting, but few have proven so skilled as Villeneuve in turning self-seriousness into a virtue. Instead of nagging self-importance, the operatic intensity of Dune: Part Two reflects an altogether more earnest appeal to the audience. In sporting the confidence to believe so fully in the reality of its world, the film invites us to believe with equal conviction.

This unwavering conviction is only fitting for a cautionary tale steeped both in the seductive power and corrupting nature of fanatical belief. We pick up with exiled princeling Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, the seeress Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), fleeing their enemies and finding refuge with the titular desert planet’s indigenous Fremen. There, Paul is taken under the wing of their avuncular leader (Javier Bardem), who seems all too willing to embrace Paul as the Chosen One of prophecy.

Dune: Part Two (2024) © Warner Bros.

The ensuing beats may seem reflective of such staples as Dances with Wolves, or indeed, Avatar. Once again, not only does the hero take to the customs of his native hosts, but appears to exceed even them in his mastery. With a detestable new villain in place to destroy their newfound home (Austin Butler, providing a magnetic shot of flamboyant evil) and a burgeoning romance between Paul and the Fremen warrior Chani (Zendaya, bringing welcome naturalism), the stage is set for a classic hero’s journey. Where Part Two truly excels, though, is in patiently lacing Paul’s ascendancy to Messianic glory with bitter poison.

With even greater clarity than the source material, we are reminded at every turn of the fundamental artifice of the boy prince’s destiny; fulfilling a prophecy wrought by propaganda and breeding programs instead of fate. Villeneuve reflects this shift in power in human faces just as cannily as in otherworldly vistas. There’s the tragicomic fervour of Bardem’s true believer, gradually devolving from comic relief into scary-sad desperation. There’s the long gaze of Chani, equal parts fear and furious moral resolve in her staunch rejection of the Chosen One narrative.

Dune: Part Two (2024) © Warner Bros.

Most strikingly of all, there’s the great hope himself, his boyish features gradually hardening into a cold, power-drunk stillness. Never has Chalamet been more commanding on screen than when he lets this false prophet turn so ugly and alienating. Villeneuve grants these faces IMAX-sized close-ups, their immensity equal to that of the monolithic spacecraft. In so doing, he crafts a spectacle as ultimately unnerving as it is dazzling, its reverberations still felt long after it disperses.

The Verdict

Equal parts propulsive actioner and atmospheric mood bath, Dune: Part Two is the rare giant-scale blockbuster with the full courage of its convictions. Most impressively, its supreme aesthetic confidence is ably balanced with the clarity of its ideas.

Words by Thomas Messner


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