Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Dune: Part Two Review - Denis Villeneuve's Excellent Sci-Fi Sequel Gets The Spice Flowing

  • More exciting and morally complex than Part One
  • The artistry is still immaculate
  • The newly introduced characters aren't as interesting as the returning ones

Denis Villeneuve's first "Dune" movie in 2021 had many impressive qualities: a script that made clear sense out of infamously complicated material, a game all-star cast, immersive IMAX-scale grandeur, and technical achievement worth all six of its Oscar wins. And yet as an adaptation of only the first half of Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel, it also had a serious case of "When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?" It was a movie begging for a sequel, teasing future events via spice visions and literally ending with Chani (Zendaya) announcing, "This is only the beginning."

Two and a half years later (half a year longer than previously anticipated as a result of the SAG-AFTRA strike), Villeneuve has finally brought us to the fireworks factory. "Dune: Part Two" is as huge an improvement upon its predecessor as "The Dark Knight" was to "Batman Begins." With the characters, setting, and conflict having been solidly established in "Part One," "Part Two" is able to build off that foundation to go bigger, weirder, darker, and more entertaining. Though "Part Two" once again concludes with an ending that's "only the beginning" — and there's no doubt in my mind that "Dune Messiah" will be greenlit within days of "Part Two" hitting theaters — this time around, we've experienced the full satisfaction of watching a great movie in its own right rather than merely being teased by the promise of one.

Is Paul the Messiah, or a very naughty boy?

I've long described Denis Villeneuve's cinematic approach to "Dune" as an attempt to make "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Lawrence of Arabia" at the same time, combining the bold sci-fi imagery of the former with the desert imperialism drama of the latter. "Dune: Part Two" goes further into both of those comparisons; Stanley Kubrick's "Star Baby" is homaged through surreal shots inside the womb of Lady Jessica (Rebecca Fergusson), and Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is now fully in the T.E. Lawrence-esque "going native" part of his story arc. While Villeneuve's style has traditionally leaned towards Kubrickian detachment, the story of "Dune: Part Two" pushes him closer to the more emotional strengths of David Lean's work.

The early goings of "Dune: Part Two" also invite another movie comparison that might come more unexpected: "Monty Python's Life of Brian." Obviously, this isn't a farce like the Python film — though there is more humor here than you might expect from the generally serious tone — but there's a similarly critical approach to Messianic mythology and religious fervor, and some scenes play out as just slightly more serious versions of "Life of Brian" scenes. Is Paul Atreides the Lisan Al-Gaib, or a very naughty boy? The answer might very well be both.

How we're supposed to feel about Paul at this point is complicated. Do we view him as a hero or a villain? Are we rooting for him to get revenge on the grotesquely evil Harkonnen family or afraid he'll become just like his enemies? Is he helping the Fremen as their equal or acting as their savior to use them for his own ends — and to what ends are the Bene Gesserit using him? Chani's role is important for providing a lens through which to look at Paul: She's critical of this outsider coming in as a savior to her people and skeptical of all the prophecies surrounding him, and yet she knows she's caught up in these prophecies with him — and damn it, she falls in love with him despite her doubts. In "Part One," Zendaya does a lot with very little screen time; in "Part Two," she's the tragic heart of the whole movie.

A lot more action

"Dune: Part One" had a few great battle scenes, but "Dune: Part Two" goes above and beyond with the thrills. From sandworm-riding to strategic military operations to brutal knife fights, there's never a long wait for the next big and beautiful action set piece. A strikingly photographed black and white gladiatorial match introducing the sadistic Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler, no longer talking like Elvis) and one particular explosion that's even scarier than the one in "Oppenheimer" are among the highlights of Greig Fraser's masterful shooting of the action. Though my advanced screening wasn't in IMAX (I plan to see the film again in the larger format), I did get to experience the Dolby Atmos sound mix, which offers its own sense of incredible immersion as you feel the vibrations of each ornithopter flying across the screen.

Among the supporting cast, Javier Bardem is doing particularly compelling work as the Fremen leader Stilgar, capturing his sense of faith and the excitement of experiencing miracles with warmth and humor. The return of Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) is also enjoyable, though admittedly my perspective on his scenes is forever skewed after reading Brolin's poetry about Chalamet, and Dave Bautista lends a strong presence to the evil role of Glossu Rabban Harkonnen. Of the new cast members, Butler makes the strongest impression, but his potential impact is somewhat lessened by the film's need to keep its depiction of violence within PG-13 limits. Though narration by Florence Pugh's Princess Irulan opens the film, she's more a plot device than an interesting character in her own right; more than anything about the character herself, I remember her great outfits. Christopher Walken's Emperor Shaddam IV is also more of a plot device than an interesting character, though with the benefit of being Christopher Walken.

Everything that "Dune: Part One" promised, "Dune: Part Two" delivers. It's a thinking person's blockbuster that works equally effectively as the middle act of an epic tragedy and as top-notch popcorn entertainment. (Hey, what did you think those sandworm buckets were for?) I have to imagine everyone else with an awards-contending movie out last fall breathed a sigh of relief when it was delayed, because the 2024 Oscar race would look pretty different with "Dune: Part Two" in the mix. Is it too early to make predictions for the 2025 Oscars? Long live the fighters!

"Dune: Part Two" opens in theaters on March 1.