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  • Writer's pictureSaxon Whitehead

'Dune: Part Two': A Thrilling, Visually Stunning Sci-fi Epic

Much has been said about how difficult it has been to adapt Frank Herbert's sci-fi classic, Dune, for the big screen, as the source material is so detailed and presented on a grand scale. But against all odds, Denis Villeneuve managed to deliver a great adaptation of Dune (albeit the first half of it) back in 2021, and it became a huge hit in the process. A sequel was inevitable, and fans of the first part have been waiting for it with bated breath. The fact that it got pushed back from its original November 2023 release date to March 2024 only made the anticipation for Dune: Part Two grow stronger, and there was much discussion over whether Villeneuve and company would be able to pull off adapting the remainder of Herbert's novel. Now that the film is here, I can confidently say that they did, as Dune: Part Two is an astonishing feat of blockbuster filmmaking. It continues the story that begun in the first installment, and builds off of it in a way that honors the book and makes for an absolutely thrilling cinematic experience in the process. It is a phenomenal epic that finishes what was started in its predecessor in spectacular fashion, and makes for the first truly great film of 2024.

Following the events of the first film, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) has joined forces with a group of desert dwellers known as the Fremen to seek vengeance on those who destroyed his family. On their quest, Paul forms a relationship with one of the Fremen warriors, Chani (Zendaya) and he rises in the ranks amongst his fellow troops. As the Fremen get closer to overthrowing the evil Harkonnen Empire, the fate of the entire planet of Arrakis hangs in the balance, and Paul must make a difficult choice that could change everything forever.

As someone who loves Herbert's original novel and the first film, Dune: Part Two is incredibly satisfying. So much of Dune (2021) is spent setting everything up and slowly getting you used to the world of Arrakis and the many characters that live there. Part Two drops you right in the middle of everything and builds off of the first film beautifully, providing stunning spectacle and digging deeper into themes of fate, power, and religion. It's just so exciting to see someone take material that was previously thought to be "unfilmable" and to knock it out of the park like both Part One and Part Two do. As a work of adaptation, it is impressive that Villeneuve and co-writer Jon Spaihts were able to bring as much of the essence of Herbert's work to the screen as they did. While there may be some nitpicks that die-hard fans of the novel might have in regards to some of cuts that were made from page to screen, I would certainly defy any other filmmaker to craft a version of Dune that is as compelling and as faithful as what we get with both of the Villeneuve directed films.

While both of Villeneuve's Dune films are well-directed, I might have to give the edge to Part Two. Both parts are visually stunning and tell their halves of the story well, but Part Two takes everything to the next level. The film operates at such a massive scale that matches that of the novel, and captures the immensity of the overarching plot involving Paul's revenge and a prophecy potentially being fulfilled. Villeneuve seems to get Herbert's novel on a deep level, which helps him bring the battle sequences to life, and highlights the thematic elements of the film so well. The larger setpieces are the true standouts, as they directed in such a way that sucks the viewer into the action. But I was especially impressed with how well Villeneuve handled the more character focused sequences. He does a great job of letting the audience connect to several of the characters, which adds an emotional weight to the film that really surprised me. This is one of those films that works on almost every conceivable level, and Villeneuve is certainly the driving force behind this. There is something to be said about how he was able to take a dense text like Dune and make it accessible to the masses. Normally, something like this might irritate me, but the fact that it does this while retaining so much of the essence and specific details of the source material is quite impressive.

The visual effects and Greig Fraser's cinematography do so much to convey the grand scale of Arrakis and the larger implications of the overarching plot. While I can understand some criticisms of the color grading of some scenes, I would argue that it mostly works in the context of the film, especially in the desert sequences. Fraser may not be reinventing the wheel with some of his camera work, but it more than does the job, and yields some excellent shots in the process. The VFX and set design are what really make the film what it is, as it creates a world that is so specific and unique to the universe of Dune. I also really enjoyed Hans Zimmer's score, which is hands down his best work in a very long time. Zimmer has reached a point where it kind of felt like he was repeating himself, but his work here feels fresh and has been replaying in my head ever since I left the theater. It is hard to deny that this film is an excellent technical achievement, as it scores high marks across the board. It is one of those films that is hard for me not to admire, and I would be surprised if any other film this year tops the sheer spectacle that Dune: Part Two provides.

The entire cast does great work, with many of the returning actors from Part One turning in performances that are just as good, if not better this time around. Timothée Chalamet is especially great in this film, and I appreciated his work much more here compared to Part One. He taps into the darker nature of the character of Paul quite well, walking the line between embodying the Chosen One archetype and someone with grayer morals. As his character becomes more powerful, it becomes more uncertain where his allegiances truly lie, and Chalamet plays this element so well. I was especially impressed by Zendaya, who is given much more time to shine here compared to Part One. She breathes life into Chani, and has such a strong presence all throughout the film. Javier Bardem's performance as Stilgar, the leader of the Fremen tribe that Paul joins up with is easily one of my favorites of the film. He has a levity and an affable nature that makes him likable, but he is also such an interesting contrast to some of the other characters. He also gives way to some of the film's ideas regarding religious fanaticism, which he plays perfectly. This period of Bardem's career has been fun to watch, and I definitely think this is one of the best performances of his entire career.

While a lot of the returning actors stood out to me, the newcomers really brought their A-game to this film. Christopher Walken's involvement is one of the things I was most excited to see in this film, and he did not disappoint. He might not be in all that much of the film, but he has a particularly great scene in the last section of it that I really liked. Florence Pugh is also quite good, even if the role is a tad thankless. It's a role that would have been more one-dimensional in the hands of a lesser actor, but Pugh has such a great gift for injecting humanity into any character she plays that it elevates the role quite well. Perhaps the best performance in the whole film, however, comes courtesy of Austin Butler. Butler is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors, as he definitely shows he has the goods with his portrayal of Feyd-Rautha, an heir to the Harkonnen Empire. He is terrifying, yet intriguing to watch, and disappears into the role. He has an unique voice and striking look that makes his character memorable, but it is the intensity of his performance that makes it so great. Butler's physicality and simmering rage makes him such an intimidating figure in the film, and showcases his range as well. It definitely shows that Butler has what it takes to be a bonafide star, and I can't wait to see what he does next. The rest of the cast, namely Rebecca Ferguson, Léa Seydoux, Josh Brolin, and Stellan Skarsgård are great, and the entire ensemble is an early contender for one of the best casts of the year.

Dune: Part Two is an incredible feat, as it adapts Frank Herbert's classic novel in a way that is faithful and captures its epic scale and rich themes amazingly. It tells such an engaging story, especially when combined with Part One, but even when viewed on its own, it is still an exciting, impeccably made sci-fi film. As someone who loves the original novel and Dune: Part One, this is an absolute gem, and definitely exceeded my expectations. Denis Villeneuve has such a strong connection with the world that Frank Herbert created, and I sincerely hope he gets the opportunity to adapt the next book in the series, Dune: Messiah. His work on both Part One and Part Two is phenomenal, and both are some of the best blockbusters I've seen in the past several years. But Part Two specifically is so entertaining and electrifying, and is truly mind-blowing. It is a great adaptation, a great sequel, and a great sci-fi film rolled up in one, and it is such a massive achievement overall.

Rating: 4.5/5

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