Film review: Dune: Part Two

Enter sandworm! Action-packed second chapter of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic Dune leaves its predecessor in the shade…

Film review: Dune: Part Two
Nick Ruskell

There is both mad confidence and confident madness at the heart of director Denis Villeneuve’s undertaking of Dune. Frank Herbert’s vast 1965 novel is in itself a huge thing to digest, even without taking into account its equally cumbersome sequels, and attempts to adapt it have been notable for either failing under the weight of the task (Alejandro Jodorowsky’s crack at it in the ’70s which eventually fell apart after the costs became never-ending) or being almost impenetrably weird (David Lynch’s 1984 movie).

Indeed, even upon its release in 2021, Villeneuve’s first chapter wasn’t onto a promise of a second from Warner Bros, an absolutely bananas idea to countenance since it stops basically in the middle of the book. It’s like telling Peter Jackson he’s good to make The Fellowship Of The Ring, maybe we’ll let you do the others, here’s some money for now. Ten Oscar nominations, six wins, and $400 million through the box office till have won him a second round (with a third reportedly being written, an inevitability on the back of this), and it’s an absolutely staggering piece of vast, imaginative, detailed sci-fi that passes its near three hours effortlessly.

Where the first one was a weighty slow burn which, despite its applause, still made plenty of people want Timothée Chalamet’s main character Paul Atreides to just get on with doing something, here there’s much more action. That movie had to explain spice mining, dynastic politics, sandworms, all sorts of stuff.

In this one, for Paul, it’s about revenge, having had his family destroyed, leaving just him and his pregnant mother. Joining up with Chani (Zendaya) and the Fremen on the desert planet Arrakis, he joins the resistance against the oppressive Spice merchants, the House Harkonnen. He also finds himself believed to be a prophet by many of his new fanatically religious associates who will spin literally anything to act as proof of his divine powers. As he begins learning the ways of the desert, he also begins having terrible visions of a disastrous future over which the only control he seems to have is not partaking in it.

Meanwhile, space politics gets all sorts of tangled. Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), leader of his house, begins grooming his psychotic and enthusiastically violent nephew Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) to be his most effective weapon to get Spice production back up to a standard to satisfy the empire. For their part, Shaddam IV, Padishah Emperor Of The Known Universe (a curious but cunningly cast Christopher Walken), and his daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh, making headdresses with pointy bits 2024's big look) are watching all this unfold and trying to work out the best outcome for them. All of this while everyone’s dressed as though they’ve got dastardly tyrannical deeds at eight, and a space fetish party at nine.

This story is gorgeously laid out with a feeling of hugeness throughout. The vastness of the desert is echoed in the imposing war machines, artistically grand architecture, massive explosions, and sheer “if we’re making them big, we may as well make them stupidly big” size of the sandworms (and, yes, the bigger they are, the funnier their bunghole-like ends become). All of it is underpinned by Hans Zimmer's staggeringly dramatic and effective soundtrack.

The battle scenes are immense and tense as the might of ultra-tech meets the scrappy guerrilla tactics of the Fremen. These are matched, though, by the intense mano-a-mano fights, particularly when, as a birthday gift, Austin Butler spends five minutes as a gladiator, having a whale of a time turning off his body armour to best one opponent properly. Ditto his final showdown towards the end, and the fact that he just really likes killing people when opportunity knocks. Although when he flexes his superiority over fellow commander and cousin Glossu Rabban Harkonnen, you do wonder if, having done similar in Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve just likes making films where Dave Bautista gets beaten up by good-looking lads.

He’s also managed to articulate not only the complex story of his source material, but also perfectly cast a depth of darkness and dread within it. Some of the characters’ conflict is up there with The Two Towers, as conspiracies are revealed and motives unmasked. His success in all this speaks not only to his deep knowledge of the book, having been obsessed since he was a teen, but actually having the ambition, mad or otherwise, that such a thing deserves and needs.

Verdict: 4/5

Dune: Part Two is released on March 1 via Warner Bros.

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