Dune: Part Two Movie Review

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Dune 2 Movie Review: Three years ago it was greeted with skepticism, now with the enthusiasm reserved for a sure shot. Dune, the space opera based on that series of novels by Frank Herbert which for a long time was considered unadaptable, returns to the big screen with the second part which completes the first story.

At the center is again Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), a scion of a house to which the Emperor has entrusted the production of the spice extracted on the desert planet of Arrakis. The spice is sacred to the local Fremen, but it is even more important for the Empire because it allows travel between galaxies: controlling it means securing riches beyond all imagination. This power has long been in the hands of the Harkonnens, who in league with the Emperor have hatched a plan to eliminate the Atreides from Arrakis/Dune and return control of the planet and its wealth.

The first part, presented out of competition at the Venice Film Festival in 2021, served to set the setting, outline the characters, and define the balance of power. Dune was recognized for its exceptional technical and artistic structure, so much so that it earned the film six Oscar awards, but also for the limitation of looking like a gigantic pilot for a TV series. The sequel, in theaters from February 28, 2024, after a few months of delay due to the actors' strike, however, reaffirms not only the production values of the entire project but also the themes and interests that move Denis Villeneuve's hand.

Just like three years ago, the director of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 divides the film into two parts: in the first he works carefully on the construction of the lore, without giving up a single detail regarding Paul Atreides' experience among the Fremen tribes, internally divided into more or less fundamentalist factions towards the prophecy which indicates the young "alien" as the Messiah who will free Arrakis from oppression and lead his people towards the Green Paradise. It is in this phase that Villeneuve best demonstrates his artistic ambition, that of wanting to combine his productive nature of high-budget blockbusters with a stellar cast, with the extended timescales and attention required by auteur cinema.

The Dune cycle thrives on this balance between opposing needs and then unleashes itself when the time is right to do so. The second part, in which new antagonists such as the sadistic Feyd Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler) are introduced, raises the engine revs, leaving aside the documentary eye to satisfy the desire for action, tragedy, and archetypes in the making. This time too, the work on the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and the photography by Greig Fraser give each scene a refined and mammoth epic quality, far from any comedic nuance of other famous space operas such as Star Wars or Star Trek.

Dune shares many aspects of it (because in the end, it was a precursor to Isaac Asimov's Foundation cycle), but not the tone. In the adaptations of Frank Herbert's novels, everything exudes dramatic seriousness, pure epic. In extreme and provocative synthesis, Dune is giving to science fiction (understood in its broadest and most popular sense) what The Lord of the Rings gave to fantasy: a majestic adaptation in terms of staging, overflowing in terms of emotional impact, and gargantuan in terms of attention to detail.

In addition to the technical aspect, there is clearly also the narrative one and it is here that perhaps the giant from Villeneuve discovers his feet of clay. In transposing the American author's novels onto the big screen, the director does everything to maintain the critical purity of the themes and immerse them in a modernity that is sometimes too sophisticated. The Fremen are a population partly of oppressed colonized people and partly of religious fanatics, elements that find a very clear reflection in the political-social dynamics of the African and Middle Eastern areas, with all the possible controversies that can derive from a representation of this type especially in terms of religious radicalization - although within it there is an attempt to highlight that various more or less progressive currents coexist.

The religious aspect here is not only overlooked but rather becomes a fundamental part of the plot: the Christological figure of the protagonist Paul Atreides is even more central and it is the meeting clash between faith and superstition, between power and freedom that makes up the fabric narrative of the second part of Dune – Part 2, very much launched at this point towards a hoped-for third chapter which should focus on the third novel, The Messiah of Dune.

Denis Villeneuve has already announced that if it gets made (after a hiatus), it will still be his last film for the franchise. If it were to end prematurely, there would remain two films that represent the state of the art of the science fiction genre, with more things to say than time to do so despite a considerable duration. But the material beneath the surface of Dune is precious and so far we have found a way to better refine it. Whether this will be the case in the future is a question for another prophecy. Thanks to what has been done so far, however, fans can rest assured regarding the Dune saga: beyond the fear, fate awaits.