Review: Dune: Part Two (2024) (ENG)

Back to the index, Movie Reviews in English / a review by Alejandro Franco

USA/Canada, 2024: Timothy Chalamet (Paul Atreides), Zendaya (Chani), Rebecca Ferguson (Jessica), Javier Bardem (Stilgar), Josh Brolin (Gurney Halleck), Austin Butler (Feyd-Rautha), Florence Pugh (Princess Irulan). ), Dave Bautista (“the Beast” Rabban), Christopher Walken (The Emperor), Leah Seydoux (Lady Margot Fenring), Stellan Skarsgård (Baron Harkonnen), Charlotte Rampling (Reverend Mother Mohiam);

Director: Denis Villeneuve – Screenplay: Denis Villeneuve & Jon Spaihts, based on the book by Frank Herbert

Plot: Paul Atreides and his mother, Lady Jessica, have embraced the spartan and revolutionary life of the Fremen, the desert dwellers of Arrakis. Pending their rebellion, Paul, Stilgar and the rest of the Fremen relentlessly attack the Spice harvesters of House Harkonnen, which puts the local regent and nephew of the Baron, “the beast” Rabban, in trouble. Meanwhile, breathing the Spice has awakened the powers of Paul, who sees himself in the future as the ruler of the entire galaxy… but the seizure of power will come at a gigantic bloodthirsty cost. While Paul is unwilling to embrace such a fate, Lady Jessica has moved her pieces with the Fremen to replace her aged Reverend Mother, which involves taking a poison known as the Water of Life and, if she survives, she will gain unlimited mental powers. Jessica not only passes the test but goes on to propagate the belief that Paul is the Mahdi, the Messiah the Fremen have been waiting for centuries to take back control of the planet and free themselves from foreign bondage. Paul lives tortured by the hopes that the entire Fremen nation places in him. Meanwhile, Princess Irulan, daughter of Emperor Shaddam IV, has begun to learn the arts of conspiracy and weaves an alliance with the Bene Gesserit, since it is imminent that she will occupy the throne of her old father. This is how Irulan, using spies, discovers that Paul Atreides is alive in Arrakis. To counteract his power – and solve the problem of the constant sabotage of the Spice harvest – the move that Irulan and the Bene Gesserit implement is to suggest to the Baron that he replace Rabban with the fierce Feyd-Raytha, the second nephew of the Lord Harkonnen, who is brilliant, sadistic and charismatic and can both subdue the Fremen revolution and counteract Paul’s influence over the desert dwellers. All this drives an inevitable clash of forces in Arrakeen, the capital of Arrakis, where the warring parties will fight a battle to the death and where the winner will have control of the entire Universe.

Review: Dune: Part Two (2024) (ENG)

This is the English version of our original movie review – you can read the original review in Spanish at this link

It is impossible to describe in words the formidable job Denis Villeneuve has done with Dune: Part Two. He makes the story understandable. He makes it more complex and brings more players into the plot without driving you crazy. It is epic and exciting. But, above all, it succeeds in detaching itself once and for all from the shadow of David Lynch. Even with all its problems the 1984 film remains the benchmark for all subsequent versions of Frank Herbert’s book. That the 2000 miniseries looked identical but poorer. That Stellan Skarsgard was a lukewarm replacement for Kenneth McMillan’s savage Baron Harkonnen. That Timothée Chalamet didn’t even come close to matching Kyle MacLachlan’s epic stature. Wait until you see what surprises Villeneuve has in store for us with Part Two, and then let me know.

If you were expecting a slicker, more polished regurgitation of the second half of the 1984 film, forget it; this is a totally different movie. Yes, there’s Paul Atreides, the Fremen and the Sandworms, but the characters function very differently, even, from 2021 Part One. Stilgar is now a fervent believer who sees signs in Paul that he is the Messiah they were waiting for. Lady Jessica is no longer a poor victim of fate but brings her own agenda, exploiting Stilgar’s faith to become the replacement for the Reverend Mother of the Fremen, force her son to fulfill his destiny, and even use the Fremen and Paul to exact revenge on the Bene Gesserit, the Emperor, the Harkonnen and anyone else who gets in the way. Chani is not a romantic ornament but a hardened warrior who sees Paul’s honesty, but also contemplates how his soul writhes before the new powers he is acquiring every day he spends in the desert and breathes the Spice that floats in the air. Paul, although everyone claims that he is the Lisan al-Gaib / Mahdi / Kwisatz Haderach (different names given by the Fremen and the Bene Gesserit for the Messiah who will come to rule the entire galaxy), does not want to accept this destiny for himself. The Spice allows him to have visions of the future, one where there are massacres throughout Arrakis and the rest of the Galaxy and where he is responsible. Chani does not believe in prophecy, for her it is just religious fanaticism that wants to see a savior in a simple alien with different abilities; but, for Paul, it is a torturing and inevitable destiny, because the only way to defeat the murderers of his father and annihilators of his family home is to become the all-powerful God that everyone sees in him.

Already with that, we’re off the path of Lynch’s version, which was stoic and epic, and didn’t delve into the characters at all. But wait until you see the villains. There’s Christopher Walken as the Emperor, but he’s not an arrogant fool in the style of 1984’s Jose Ferrer; this is an old man, powerless, manipulated by the Bene Gesserit, and resting on the shoulders of his daughter, Princess Irulan, who is a brilliant schemer. She is learning the mechanisms of power, but she is already able to read reality and draw some plans, although the Bene Gesserit always control what she wants to bake. On the other hand, Feyd-Rautha is no longer just a leather-suited nutter who makes a cameo and appears for the final duel; he ends up becoming the true antagonist of the story, replacing his uncle, Baron Harkonnen, in the role. While everyone is excellent, Austin Butler’s performance is by far the best of the film. He is a sinister and intelligent psychopath, introduced shortly into the film, and with plenty of room to elaborate on what he understands to be ruthless control. When “the beast” Rabban’s Fremen rebellion gets out of hand – the guerrillas sabotage almost all of his Spice production – Feyd-Rautha is called in to do damage control. He is expeditious and sadistic, but also a born leader, and it’s not hard to see him as the dark version of Paul Atreides. Even the Bene Gesserit conspire so that, if they can’t handle Paul and have to eliminate him, they can at least try another attempt at a Messiah drawn from Feyd-Rautha’s seed.

But none of this would work if Timothée Chalamet didn’t do the role justice. It’s amazing to see Chalamet become a strong, heroic yet tragic figure. It is a formidable performance that evolves throughout the film, first tortured by seeing his future as inspiring a bloody war and – once he gains momentum and decides to take the Water of Life, which is lethal to men but is the only one that can unleash his full potential – becoming a ruthless and reckless leader who furiously embraces his destiny simply because he knows it is inevitable. At one point he – now become the Kwisatz Haderach – bursts into a temple in southern Arrakis, the area where the fundamentalist Fremen (who behave like Muslims, praying on their knees on the ground and forming a circle around the priest on duty) live, and begins to argue with each of them, either using his clairvoyance to give them details of their respective pasts, or fighting the arguments that an outsider cannot be the next Messiah. It’s a scene that reminds me of the passage in the Bible where Jesus bursts into the temple, throws out the merchants and debates with the non-believers. And Chalamet shines, very strong, convinced of his words but, at the same time, angry with his mother because that scene was driven by her, because he knows that if he doesn’t raise all the Fremen factions (even the most radical) in arms, he won’t be able to win the war for the possession of the planet. There are moments when you get the impression that Lady Jessica wants to have her own Bene Gesserit order (or subjugate the current ones to her enormous power) at any cost.

The ending is weird. It’s epic but it kind of goes by too fast. There are certain deaths that should have been huge or more dramatic, but they just… happen. At least the duel between Paul and Feyd-Rautha is wild and bloody, light years ahead of the theatricality of Sting and MacLachlan. There are many new elements – Lady Jessica’s fetus also absorbs the Water of Life and is omniscient and talks to her all the time; there are other Bene Gesserit disguised as ordinary women; the climax is not the end of the story but the beginning of an intergalactic Jihad – that change all the expectations one had of the second part. It’s certainly much more satisfying than the ending of Part One, but there are important loose ends that will be resolved in Part Three. We’ll have to see if Villeneuve’s magic continues in the third installment (based on Messiah of Dune, which was adapted in the 2003 miniseries Children of Dune in case one doesn’t want to wait three years to see the sequel), as the plot is now much denser and there are too many more characters and factions in dance for people to reweave the whole fabric of all the conspiracies that were left open with this installment.

Some commentator said that Villeneuve’s Dune is Star Wars for adults. What an idiotic thing to say. George Lucas’ creation is a naive adventure based on a fantasy universe full of black and white characters. On the contrary, Villeneuve’s work has already surpassed all possible versions of the work because he has managed to capture the complexity of Frank Herbert’s epic while translating it so that it can be understood by all audiences. Not only do all the characters (be they good guys or bad guys) have their own conspiratorial agenda, but the hero – the most powerful being in the galaxy – has become a tormented individual because he sees no way to change his destiny or all the deaths associated with his mere existence. It is a universe plagued by shades of gray, where the hero’s triumph ends up being a Pyrrhic victory.

Dune: Part Two borders on the limits of a masterpiece. The point, of course, is that this is the middle chapter of a much longer story that we have yet to finish reading. But when it arrives – and if the level is maintained -, it is going to be an epic work of historical proportions, superior to Star Wars and on a par with The Ring Trilogy, because it exceeds in intelligence, is accessible, thrilling and deals with a lot of complex themes in an unusually didactic way.