Film: Dune (Part Two)

Denis Villeneuve concludes his masterful adaptation of the award-winning Frank Herbert novel with Dune: Part Two (2024), which at last carries the story to a conclusion. Rife with glorious eyeball kicks and an A-list cast hitting all the right notes, it improves upon the first chapter with a brisker pace, increased conflict, higher stakes, and satisfying final moments.

Dune takes place on the harsh desert world of Arrakis, where the mining of an extremely valuable spice, key to the galactic empire’s interstellar economy, is entrusted to a powerful imperial family. In Dune: Part One, the mining operation was turned over to House Atreides, which took over for the experienced and brutal Harkonnen clan. Unfortunately for the Atreides, including heir apparent Paul (Timothée Chalamet), their reign on Arrakis was short-lived. In fact, the Emperor (Christopher Walken) orchestrated their stewardship of Arrakis to position them for a vicious Harkonnen betrayal, a devious plot to extinguish the entire Atreides line. The plot nearly worked, but Paul escaped with his Bene Gesserit mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), taking refuge with the indigenous Fremen population. Paul respects the Fremen ways, and has started to fall for one of their best fighters, Chani (Zendaya). He’s determined to become one of them and to exact revenge on the Harkonnens. But his arrival feeds into an ancient prophecy about a chosen one leading the Fremen to greatness, an advantage Jessica is all too keen to leverage to restore them to power. Under Paul’s growing leadership, the Fremen rise up against the Harkonnens, leading to fateful conflict between the natives of Arrakis and the empire.

Despite a nearly three-hour running time, Dune: Part Two feels fast, perhaps because the epic scope of the novel requires a certain acceleration of plot logistics. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to slide right back into the world and pick up the story; the first film’s patient groundwork pays off in a smooth continuation. Chalamet, Ferguson, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem are great once again on one side of the conflict, while Dave Bautista and Stellan Skarsgaard reprise effective villainy. Joining the cast are hot-ticket newcomers like Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, and Léa Seydoux, all of them perfectly deployed. Villeneuve’s vision of Arrakis regularly delivers an impressive sense of wonder, especially when he depicts spice harvesting technology and sand worms. There is something one-step-removed about the film, which may be a personal reaction to the source material’s white-savior elements and space-opera distance. But as a filmic adaptation of a challenging, classic genre story, it’s very successful, and quite possibly definitive.

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