Review: Dune – Part 2

Dune Part 2 poster

As it was with past franchises, a second part of a narrative always feels a little… awkward. But Dune: Part 2 delivers the same quality and mystique as the first part.

Following the events of Dune (2021) Paul Atreides finds himself among the Fremen, the natives of the planet Arrakis, hiding out from the Harkonnens, a military force bent on ruling the planet and destroying him. But strange works of political and mystical forces influence Paul, perhaps driving him to lead the charge against the oppressors.

Director Denis Villeneuve has spoken regularly for his love of the science fiction franchise epic written by Frank Herbert. But when he directed Dune, which was only the first part of the first book, its future was so uncertain by Warner Brothers that it wasn’t even advertised as Part One. Its very nature was only revealed to some audience members as the opening titles began! Luckily for us, the delayed release of Dune in 2021 made it (almost by default) a smash hit as the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown was lifted.

All of this is to say why this film, an intrinsic conclusion to the first, didn’t release in 2022; they literally had to go out and film the next one; they weren’t filmed together. As is so often the case nowadays.
Villeneuve returns to direct the entire returning cast, Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson and others, as well as a host of new characters. Florence Pugh, Austin Butler, and Christopher Walken arrive as excellent and well-fitting additions.

Zendaya and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune Part 2
“I will not be side-lined” she seems to say

For anyone who has read the books, all of them or even just the first three, will know that Herbert’s vision is… strange. The first book, published in 1965, is the most classically written but still maintains some weirdness. With these recent movies, the first part was mostly untouched from the surreal nature of the source material; it is the start of a hero’s journey, with some hints at mysticism and politics. However, the second half of the book, while tame compared to what would follow, does have some very strange concepts that do not translate to film easily.

In 1984, David Lynch had a go at it. How did they do it in this year of 2024? Well… they mostly avoided it.

This might be a breaking point for some fans expecting a 1:1 adaptation, especially for how perfect the first part in 2021 was, but also as a precedent for going forward. The books only get weirder, and if they start buckling now, what does that mean later down the line?

While we are discussing deviations from the source, there is another change made to a principle character, to add agency and antagonism to the story. Again, this might frustrate some, as it feels dissonant to the world and politics portrayed in the books… But, with hindsight, this change is likely to improve connective tissue between this film and the next. Indeed, this is not an end (which also might flummox some audiences!)

Action sequences feel a little confusing at times… When battle is joined between warring forces, it is almost inevitable that the screen is going to get noisy. We’ve seen it time and time again. The more personal battles, the skirmishes, seen in part one are still better than massive wars seen here.

Austin Butler in Dune Part 2
The positively terrifying Fayd-Rautha (Austin Butler)

But these are all of the negatives, literally everything else is sensationally well done. Splitting the book this way has worked quite well, as the story does involve a slightly different cast of characters later on. Dune: Part 2 is heavily following the societies and heritages of the desert-dwelling Fremen and the unpleasant Harkonnens. As well as the overarching presence of the Imperium, its Emperor (played by Walken) and its princess, Irulan (played by Florence Pugh).
It needs to be said that the casting here is impeccable. All of the new characters fit perfectly within the world and incapsulate how they were in the books. Special note goes to Austin Butler as Fayd-Rautha, the psychotic Harkonnen rival to Paul Atreides.

Visually, the film is excellent. There is a sense of place and culture whenever we shift perspectives, suggesting a wider universe beyond Arrakis. From the gardens that House Corrino enjoys, to the shadowy, monochromatic harshness of Giedi Prime.

The pacing is… different, from the first part. Paul’s story ramps up quickly; the first film was him experiencing life and death on Arrakis, but now it is all out war. We leap from various scenes of guerrilla warfare by the Fremen against the Harkonnens, as well as Paul’s mother Jessica (Ferguson) diving headlong into the mysterious machinations of the Bene Gesserit. A mystical cult of women who manipulate destiny for genetic sequencing. To cap it all off, Paul’s romance with Chani (Zendaya) clashing with his tidings towards prescience.

Suffice to say, Dune: Part 2 is “more of the same”, in the best way possible. The next entry, or should we say entries, cannot come soon enough! To see these actors and this director bring the next stories to life, to give it the consistency and integrity already shown, is too exciting to imagine.

If you didn’t enjoy Dune (2021) you likely won’t be encouraged by part two. It is recommended to rewatch the first one beforehand. Which is nice and easy; it is available on Netflix, Amazon, and others.

4.5 stars out of 5

Additional Marshmallows: Still no real mention of mentats. That has to come up in the next entries.

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