Friday, April 19, 2024

“DUNE: PART TWO”

THE STORY – Paul Atreides unites with Chani and the Fremen while seeking revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family. Facing a choice between the love of his life and the fate of the universe, he must prevent a terrible future only he can foresee.

THE CAST – Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, Léa Seydoux, Souheila Yacoub, Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling & Javier Bardem

THE TEAM – Denis Villeneuve (Director/Writer) & Jon Spaihts (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 165 Minutes


During a promotional video for “Dune: Part Two,” director Denis Villeneuve ended it by saying to audiences, “Long live cinema.” Such words have never felt more prevalent and meaningful than they have in the last few years. The legacy of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel “Dune” has long lived in the hearts and minds of readers for generations, inspiring other timeless stories in the sci-fi fantasy genre, even George Lucas, while making the “Star Wars” films. Adapting “Dune” for the big screen was always going to be a daunting challenge for any filmmaker. It’s incredibly dense, rich in its detail for different otherworldly cultures, their religion, and politics. It also tells a story that appears to be a hero’s journey at first but then reveals itself to be something far more complex and darker. While Alejandro Jodorowsky’s valiantly tried to adapt the novel for many years but was unsuccessful in doing so Academy Award-nominee David Lynch succeeded in 1984, although the decision to tell the novel in its entirety within the confines of a single movie was met with harsh reactions from fans and critics (though, it has gone on to receive a cult following in the years that followed). It was even adapted for television into a miniseries, but that medium was nowhere near as robust as it is today to handle such a behemoth. In comes Villeneuve and his dream of adapting the book of his childhood with the goal to finally do Herbert’s story justice, and what we got was “Dune: Part One” (2021), which went on to receive substantial acclaim (despite a global pandemic), earning six Oscars including a nomination for Best Picture. Despite the praise, many felt the first film was hindered still from its existence as only the first half of the whole story. And that is where “Dune: Part Two” comes in. If large-scale action and world-building on the level of “The Lord Of The Rings” and “Avatar,” political and religious intrigue that evokes only the fondest memories of “Game of Thrones,” is what you were hoping for, Villeneuve’s second half of the story monumentally delivers and then some cementing itself as not only one of the greatest sequels ever made but one of the very best this genre has to offer. In short, and I don’t say this lightly, it’s a stupendous cinematic masterpiece. Villeneuve has fully realized his dream of adapting Frank Herbert’s beloved novel with the profoundness, respect, and scale it deserves in a tour de force of filmmaking we rarely see anymore. This is why we go to the movies.

Picking up right where “Dune: Part One” left off, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), are being accompanied by the Fremon to Sietch Tabr to seek refuge from the Harkonnens where their ultimate fates will be decided. Chani (Zendaya) begins to take a liking to Paul due to his honor, capabilities, sincerity, gentleness, and respect for the Freman people as he seeks an alliance with them, just as his late father initially wanted. But now, after the Harkonnens massacred his house and bloodline on orders from the Emperor (Christopher Walken), Paul is driven mainly by revenge. However, he conceals this from the Fremen people as he learns their ways, becomes one with the desert, rides a sandworm (one of many stunning sequences within the film), and falls in love with Chani, adopting a new Fremen name, Ucul (meaning “the strength of the base of the pillar”), and warrior name, Muad’dib. As guerilla warfare against the Harkonnens continues to stop Spice production (the most valuable commodity in the galaxy used for interstellar travel and other essential uses) and gain the Emperor’s attention, Paul’s legend among the Fremen begins to grow, led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and his fundamentalist beliefs. This is aided in part by Lady Jessica, who is continuing the work of the Bene Gesserit to produce the Kwisatz Haderach by becoming a Reverand Mother to the Fremen people and spreading word throughout Arrakis that Paul may be their long-awaited savior who will lead them to the promised land, otherwise known as the Lisan al Gaib. Paul is reluctant to buy into the prophecy that he may be these people’s messiah and does everything he can to ignore the terrifying visions that plague his mind, amplified by prolonged exposure to the psychedelic chemical on the desert planet known as Spice. However, as the Fremen people repeatedly see signs within Paul as their savior, he may not be able to outrun his destiny as forces beyond his control push him toward a horrible fate only he can foresee.

Along with co-writer Jon Spaihts, Villeneuve has done what many considered to be impossible, especially in this day and age where mainstream Hollywood blockbusters have been presented in such a bland and standardized way with little to no room for the level of sophistication and maturity Herbert’s material provides. “Dune: Part Two” goes even deeper into the lore of the novel than “Dune: Part One,” as we spend more time with the Fremen people and understand the grander prophecy of Paul’s possible coming as the Lisan al Gaib. Once Stilgar’s belief in Paul becomes unshakeable, it perfectly encapsulates what Herbert’s original message was from the book and what the first film was so sorely lacking. Considering the horrors happening worldwide today, the fact we’re in an election year, and how blind fanatics can be towards charismatic leaders who offer them hope, the integral significance of the novel’s themes has never felt more prescient and critically pressing.

This all helps to give “Dune: Part Two” far more in-depth thematic resonance than the first film and further draws us into its tragedy through the love story between Paul and Chani. Without it, the weight of Paul’s arc would not nearly be as heartfelt. Chalamet and Zendaya develop a natural chemistry that feels lived in, primarily thanks to their magnetic on-screen presence. Zendaya, in particular, is the heart of the film, acting in many ways as the audience surrogate this time around to Paul’s journey, allowing us to see through her blue eyes his transformation from a reluctant leader into something far more ominous. Fans who were left disappointed by her lack of screen time in “Dune: Part One” will be happy with the amount of material she has to work with this time around.

Villeneuve knows (possibly borrowing a cue from James Cameron) that without a credible love story at the center of his giant war film, the personal stakes would not be anywhere nearly as felt. He wisely devotes a lot of time to this aspect of the story for “Dune: Part Two” is much like the first film, if not more so, dedicated in its pacing toward building the characters and the world rather than delivering mindless action setpieces for the sake of pure entertainment. Even with “Dune: Part One” laying the foundation for what was to come in “Part Two,” there’s still a lot of ground to cover in introducing new characters and meticulously laying the groundwork to ensure Paul’s arc feels believable and has maximum emotional impact by the time the credits roll.

Some of those new characters include Shaddam IV, the Padishah Emperor of the Known Universe and head of House Corrino, played by Christopher Walken, in a subdued performance that luckily leans more into the actor’s gravitas than his meme-ified mannerisms. Employing the same voiceover from her diary entries as the novel did the Emperor’s daughter, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh briefly reuniting with Chalamet following their work together on “Little Women“), is presented as yet another pawn by the Bene Gesserit to establish control over the direction of the universe (like Zendaya, she’ll likely have more to do in the upcoming third film “Dune: Messiah”) as is Lady Margot Fenring (Léa Seydoux) who is brought in to seduce Baron Vladimir Harkonnen’s (Stellan Skarsgård, once again doused in pounds of makeup) nephew and heir to House Harkonnen, Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler). Following his Oscar nomination for “Elvis,” Butler shows us who he is by pulling a 180 and delivering a deliciously evil performance fueled by ambition and the sick pleasure he receives from watching others suffer. His Feyd-Rautha is introduced in a stunningly shot black-and-white infrared sequence under the Harkonnen black sun as he fights the last of the Atreides warriors in a staged gladiatorial scene on his birthday with one purpose: to murder. Even without the theatrics, there’s no telling when he will surprisingly cut someone’s throat, making his sexy, imposing, and entirely inhabited performance (equipped with a vocal deliver that deliberately mimics Skarsgård’s cadence) a definite highlight of this sequel.

Returning characters from the first film also get their own spotlight moments as well. Chalamet delivers what might be his best performance since “Call Me By Your Name,” as he effectively has to play two opposite sides of who Paul is and somehow make the transition between the two feel organic throughout the course of the film. One particular scene, a prophetic and rousing speech to the Fremen, is underscored by his powerful yet frightening charisma that has the ability to inspire through the promise of a better future, but more importantly, fear. Chalamet is absolutely chilling in these moments, inspiring goosebumps and proving his often considered dull performance in the first film was purposeful in getting us to this defining moment of contrast and revelation. Like the first film, Rebecca Fergusson is given more meaty material in the film’s first half before being sidelined for the second half. However, the addition of her (and Paul’s) ability to communicate with her unborn child still in her womb and the future importance Paul’s sister will have on “Dune: Messiah” is one of the more captivating sequel-baiting elements of “Dune: Part Two.” Dave Bautista lazily shouts his way through every scene as Rabban Harkonnen, who has been granted governance of Arrakis but is failing as the strength of the Fremen resistance grows due to their belief in the Lisan al Gaib, making the introduction of Feyd-Rautha a much-needed jolt of liveliness to the Harkonnen storyline as. Josh Brolin returns as Gurney Halleck, revealing he survived the attack on Arrakeen from the first film but doesn’t add more to the story than being a welcome, friendly mentor to Paul. Charlotte Rampling once again brings her menacing poise to the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam as we see similar to characters such as Varys and Littlefinger in “Game Of Thrones” sometimes it’s the ones who can whisper in the ear of the one who sits on the throne who has the ultimate control. But it’s Javier Bardem who has perhaps the most radically different performance than how he was first portrayed in “Dune: Part One.” Where Stilgar was calm, rigid, and mysterious before, he is more open amongst his people and has more humanity and personality. A leader with compassion and a strong sense of honor, his performance may be the most disturbing of all as he embodies the themes of Herbert’s novel, showing just how dangerous and scary religious fundamentalism can be as we see him become more devoted to Paul with each passing sign he may the one the Fremen people have been waiting thousands of years for.

Because they were able to go into production right away following the release of “Dune: Part One,” “Dune: Part Two” retains the same creative team behind the camera, providing the sequel with a visual continuity that helps it feel like part of a whole and not something entirely cut off from the first. Cinematographer Greig Fraser finds more visual language within the sands of the desert to present us with a grand vision on a large canvas best experienced in IMAX. It’s not too far off to say this rivals “Lawrence Of Arabia” as some of the best desert photography the world has ever seen. The costume and production design further enrich the world of “Dune” by adding more texture to the culture of the Fremen (the apparatuses they use to suck water from corpses for later consumption is fascinating), the Harkonnens and showing us brief glimpses of the peaceful environment the Emperor and Irulan reside. The visual effects are just as immersive and awe-inspiring as before, though some might feel it’s all more of the same. Still, when the work on the first film was so tactile and realistic in its overall presentation, in an age of artificially made blockbusters, the world and visual look of “Dune” will always be seen as a beauty of magnificence. The sound work is extraordinary, too, particularly the scene where Paul rides a sandworm for the first time. Speakers will rattle, chairs will shake, and audiences will likely feel overwhelmed by the awesome energy and power of “Dune’s” soundscape. Of course, this is all aided by Hans Zimmer’s astonishing score. Like the visual effects, while it recycles many themes from the first film (and uses snippets from tracks on “The Dune Sketchbook”), the unique music for “Dune” was so unlike anything audiences had ever heard before. The way it weaves so seamlessly into the film’s overall soundscape is another endearing example of the creativity the medium of film can provide in elevating words off the page and making them come alive in a way book readers never thought possible. Zimmer’s love theme for Paul and Chani is a standout, as it beautifully sweeps audiences into their relationship against the backdrop of this gorgeous landscape and an even bigger story with far-reaching implications for future installments.

How Denis Villeneuve possibly adapts the second book in Frank Herbert’s “Dune” franchise titled “Dune: Messiah” is a conversation for another time. Taken as a whole, where “Dune: Part One” and “Part Two” function as “The Godfather” of sci-fi stories, “Dune: Messiah” could go the route of “The Godfather Part II” or “The Godfather Part III.” It remains a delicate adaptation process overall as the story becomes more intricate, but for now, fans of Herbert’s classic first novel can rejoice, for they finally got the adaptation they so longingly deserved. “Dune: Part Two” is a spectacular sci-fi film that surpasses “Dune: Part One” in every single way. It even makes “Dune: Part One” better in retrospect now that we have a complete picture of where the story starts, begins and ends (for the time being). Compare it to “The Dark Knight” or “The Empire Strikes Back” all you want; the comparisons are legitimate and earned. The story is vital for our times, as it plunges into the religion, politics, mythology, and characters in a far more expanded manner. The themes are more potent, and the action delivers on both a gigantic and intimate scale (the final hand-to-hand combat scene between Paul and Feyd-Rautha is lightyears better than the climatic one between Paul and Jamis in “Dune: Part One“). With the second half of the story now told, Denis Villeneuve has fully realized his childhood dream of bringing Frank Herbert’s masterwork to the big screen. Perhaps the only genuine complaint about it all is fans of these movies, and of the book will be left wanting even more by its inevitable cliffhanger ending leading into what will hopefully be the conclusion of the trilogy of Paul Atreides with “Dune: Messiah.” Whether that’s in the form of deleted scenes or one day perhaps receiving an extended edition just as Peter Jackson did with his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, remains to be seen. But like those once-in-a-lifetime cherished films for its filmmaker, “Dune” represents epic filmmaking at its finest, and in a long career that already contains so many beloved films such as “Incendies,” “Prisoners,” “Arrival,” and “Blade Runner 2049” (just to name a few), what Villeneuve has accomplished with “Dune” may be the crowning triumph of his already distinguished career putting him up there with some of the all-time greats. Long live the Fighters. Long live Denis. Long live Dune. Long live cinema.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Surpasses the first film in every single way. Immersive, technically awe-inspiring filmmaking with a thematic resonance and dark complexity on an epic scale we rarely ever see. The entire cast is perfect as they bring these beloved characters to vivid life.

THE BAD - Book purists may question some of the adaptation choices (but it's tough to fully judge until "Dune: Messiah" comes out), and no matter what, there will always be those who feel intimidated by the runtime with something this lore-heavy.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Sound & Best Visual Effects

THE FINAL SCORE - 10/10

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Matt Neglia
Matt Negliahttps://nextbestpicture.com/
Obsessed about the Oscars, Criterion Collection and all things film 24/7. Critics Choice Member.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Surpasses the first film in every single way. Immersive, technically awe-inspiring filmmaking with a thematic resonance and dark complexity on an epic scale we rarely ever see. The entire cast is perfect as they bring these beloved characters to vivid life.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Book purists may question some of the adaptation choices (but it's tough to fully judge until "Dune: Messiah" comes out), and no matter what, there will always be those who feel intimidated by the runtime with something this lore-heavy.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-picture/">Best Picture</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-director/">Best Director</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-adapted-screenplay/">Best Adapted Screenplay</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-cinematography/">Best Cinematography</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-costume-design/">Best Costume Design</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-film-editing/">Best Film Editing</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-makeup-and-hairstyling/">Best Makeup and Hairstyling</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-production-design/">Best Production Design</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-original-score/">Best Original Score</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-sound/">Best Sound</a> & <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-visual-effects/">Best Visual Effects</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>10/10<br><br>"DUNE: PART TWO"