‘Dune: Part 2’ Review: Denis Villeneuve’s Thrilling Sequel Is Even Better Than the First Film

Austin Butler and Rebecca Ferguson are MVPs in a solid ensemble cast

"Dune 2"
Timothée Chalamet in "Dune: Part 2" (Credit: Warner Bros.)

There are countless moments in Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to “Dune” that will take your breath away, from the wide desert shots of the planet Arrakis, to the filled stadium of people in a landscape utterly devoid of color. In terms of technical artistry and ambition, it’ll be hard for anything to top “Dune: Part Two” this year.

But, more importantly, the sequel to the 2021 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic will grab those who didn’t engage with the first installment. With a fast-paced, engrossing script, credited to Villeneuve and his cowriter Jon Spaihts, “Dune: Part Two” will have you eager to see where this franchise goes.

Taking place in the aftermath of the assassination of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) in the first film, his son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) is now ingrained with the desert people known as the Fremen alongside his mother, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). Jessica continues to hope that the planet will believe Paul is their savior, as laid out by her religious order the Bene Gesserit. Paul fears that being a messiah will only lead to war and starvation, but his path for revenge against those who killed his father compels him to use it for his own means.

What’s most remarkable about “Dune: Part Two” is how, at 2 hours and 46 minutes, it has such a sense of momentum. Where the first film had to tackle so much exposition and establish multiple characters and the world it’s set in, the second film already knows its audience is aware of this history and just jumps right into the thick of things.

Villeneuve and Spaihts’ script is packed with story and dialogue that, at times, feels akin to “Game of Thrones,” particularly as Paul and Jessica go off on individual journeys to bring down the house of Harkonnen alongside the emperor (Christopher Walken) who requested Leto’s demise. But there’s an equal embrace for the weirdness of Herbert’s world. This is a film wherein people drink worm juice called “the water of life” and a fetus and its mother engage in open conversation. These moments may be strange on the surface, but they elevate the story beyond a turgid tale of war.

That elevation continues in the technical design of the film, which feels far more ambitious than the previous installment as there are more locations to visit. Starting in the Arrakis capital of Arrakeen, we see the desert homes of the Fremen, transition to the southern reaches of the planet and make stops in the Harkonnen capital. Each location has a distinct patina to it, all expertly captured by Greig Fraser’s camerawork.

The sense of scale is one thing — coupled with some epic sound design that will leave your entire theater rumbling — but it’s another to see how individual scenes are populated. The aforementioned fight scene on the planet of the Harkonnen’s is haunting in its use of black and white to showcase a landscape of uniformity. But it’s another seeing thousands of people all moving in unison in a group shot that may leave you wondering if it was accomplished with CGI actors or extras.

Chalamet remains front and center as Paul, this time not as young and in need of training. The actor crafts a character that’s more pensive, genuinely torn by his own desire for vengeance and the fear that his own identity is bound up in something that could lead to the devastation of millions. Much time is spent on him grappling with his decision to be a messiah, which ultimately makes his acceptance of it towards the end feel like an abrupt about-face.

Ferguson’s Lady Jessica is another high point, though that’s still because the Bene Gesserit plotline yields so much fascination, even though there seems to be so much more lurking underneath what little is revealed. Ferguson gets to have some fun with the character, becoming a religious icon as the Reverend Mother for the Fremen, as well as having regular conversations with her daughter in utero. At times it feels like Ferguson’s character is living in “The Exorcist” or “Rosemary’s Baby,” but it brings some levity to the overall film.

The real standout is Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha, the sociopathic nephew of Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard). The “Elvis” star could have rested purely on the dramatic physical transformation for his character consisting of a bald head and no eyebrows, but Butler brings such a heavy air of menacing charisma to Feyd-Rautha. His ability to smile while saying “you fought well” as he kills someone is frightening and beguiling in equal measure. He’s worth waiting the nearly two hours it takes for his introduction, and his fight sequence opposite Chalamet is a beautifully executed piece of fight choreography.

Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan, has the potential for something, but as it stands in this film, she comes off as little more than exquisitely gowned set dressing (hat tip to costume designer Jacqueline West). Though Irulan is our narrator from the beginning of this tale, documenting what’s happening in a diary, she disappears for a large chunk of the first hour, only to return to move the Bene Gesserit plot along. It isn’t until the finale, when she makes a decision that threatens to tear Paul and Chani apart, that she feels integral to the narrative. In a way, she’s set up much like Zendaya was in the first film: a necessary character who’s plotline opens up later down the road.

That being said, Zendaya also does strong work, but she’s more situated as a supportive type for Paul. Though she is said to be a warrior, a career soldier in a way, she’s still relegated to reacting to things more than anything else. Here’s hoping the third movie allows actual interplay between her, Paul and Pugh’s Irulan. (Those who have read the books should know what’s to come.)

For those already invested in the “Dune” franchise, “Dune: Part Two” is a sweeping and engaging continuation that will make you eager for a third installment. And if you were a fence-sitter on the first, this should also hold your attention with a taut, well-done script and engaging characters with whom you’ll want to spend nearly three hours.

“Dune: Part Two” hits theaters on March 1.


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