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Dune: Part Two

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Dune: Part Two
Photograph: Warner Bros.

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Denis Villeneuve delivers Dune’s thunderous answer to The Empire Strikes Back

Beyond its breathtaking battles and galactic machinations, all soundtracked by a Hans Zimmer score in which the German composer seems to have set all the nobs turned to ‘loudest possible’, what’s most impressive about this seriously-impressive blockbuster sequel takes place beneath the surface. And it’s not the colossal sandworms.

No, it’s the subtle character shifts that make Dune: Part Two cerebral as well as cacophonous. The plates are always moving in Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novels: today’s heroes are tomorrow’s pile of corpses. Denis Villeneuve, a writer-director who’s been keen to get his teeth into the tough stuff since his early work like Polytechnique (2009) and Incendies (2010), gets all this. And his screenplay, again co-written with Prometheus’s Jon Spaihts, gives us a hero’s journey with real devil in it.

As a sequel, it works for the same reasons that make The Empire Strikes Back so many people’s favourite Star Wars film: there’s a darkness, a bleakness, that makes the fist-pumping moments feel all-the-more earned. There’s a sense, too, that the good guys may not win out. If they’re even good. 

It opens with just that stark vision of piled corpses. The vanquished Atreides clan lies smoldering on the inhospitable landscape of Arrakis, while the treacherous Harkonnen, spearheaded by Dave Bautista’s thuggish ‘Beast’, set about harvesting the place for its spice reserves. Only Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides and his mystical Bene Gesserit mum, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson, a standout), have escaped the carnage and begun the dangerous business of assimilating with the desert Freman people. On the checklist: guerilla warfare, sandworm wrangling, and something worryingly referred to as ‘holy poison’. 

Villeneuve’s films can be self-serious, but Javier Bardem punctures the solemnity as Freman leader Stilgar, increasingly Dune’s twinkly answer to Anthony Quinn in Lawrence of Arabia (a key text for the Canadian’s vision – right down to their shared Wadi Rum locations). 

Denis Villeneuve gives us a hero’s journey with real devil in it

The burgeoning romance between Paul and Zendaya’s Freman warrior Chani goes a bit Nicholas Sparks in a mid-movie lull – ‘he was a boy from the other world, she was a girl from the wrong side of the dune’, etc – but those doe-eyed scenes pay off in a final act that upends expectations and gives Zendaya a chance to cut loose. 

The Harkonnen foes they engage in thrilling spice harvester ambushes are an even more vicious, visceral presence than in the first film. Stellan Skarsgård’s bloated Baron Harkokken oversees the attempted extermination of the Freman with a ruthlessness that makes his first name, Vladimir, all the more apt. They speak in the language of ethnic cleansing – the Freman are referred to as ‘rats’ – and unleash a new superbad in the Baron’s psychotic nephew Feyd-Rautha.

Played by Elvis star Austin Butler with the blackened palate of a mamba and sharpened teeth, he’s an unearthly and bloodthirsty creation – a memorable sci-fi baddie. With cinematographer Greig Fraser, Villeneuve captures his violent initiation in desatured monochrome, a stark black and white aesthetic in a movie full of grey areas. 

Crucially, for all their parallels, Paul and Feyd-Rautha aren’t just two sides of the same coin. Paul’s quest for the soul of the Freman takes Dune: Part Two into some areas that may feel uncomfortably resonant in 2024 – even with all the trippy evangelical mysticism and peyote-like wig-outs. Messianic complexes, populism, violent jihad and ethnic cleansing aren’t the building blocks of your average Hollywood blockbuster. Then again, Villeneuve doesn’t make those.

In cinemas worldwide Mar 1.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Denis Villeneuve
  • Screenwriter:Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve
  • Cast:
    • Timothée Chalamet
    • Zendaya
    • Rebecca Ferguson
    • Josh Brolin
    • Austin Butler
    • Stellan Skarsgård
    • Javier Bardem
    • Florence Pugh
    • Christopher Walken
    • Dave Bautista
    • Léa Seydoux
    • Charlotte Rampling
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