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‘Dune Part II’ is an Achievement of Intergalactic Proportions

Sequels to beloved films aren’t always great. However, the record-shattering sequel to Dune (2021) was worth the three year wait.

Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Dune Part II (2024)
Timothee Chalamet stars as Paul in Dune Part II. Credit: Legendary Entertainment / Greig Fraser

More often than not, sequels to beloved films do not always deliver. Dune (2021) was immediately well received by audiences which left people nervous about the quality of the sequel. Fortunately, director Denis Villeneuve’s record-shattering second installment to Dune was certainly worth the nearly three year wait. Dune Part II (2024) is the cinematic event of a lifetime. It is a film that feels staggering and at times even impossible. Dune Part II should not logically exist. 

It feels impossible. The immensity of the project feels too vast for the already two-hour and forty-six-minute timespan of the film. The trick achieved by Denis Villeneuve and his team is that the movie does not feel close to the almost three-hour runtime. Dune Part II passes in a blink. It guides viewers so far into the Dune universe that they forget they were ever watching a film to begin with. It is enchantingly disturbing from beginning to end.

Dune Part II starts right after the first film ends, so a rewatch of Part One is for the best!

If you don’t have time for a watch party of Dune, here’s a quick recap. The first installment of Dune follows the young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), heir to the throne of the House Atreides. Paul and his parents are told to move away from their home planet of Caladan, to further colonize the planet Arrakis. Arrakis is an inhospitable desert planet full of giant sandworms and spice. Spice is the most powerful catch-all substance in Dune’s universe. That substance, which makes interplanetary travel possible, is the cause of war, famine, and unrest. The Fremen people that inhabit Arrakis and others use it as a drug to instigate religious visions, too. Unfortunately, spice is only found on Arrakis.

Paul’s family has some difficulty adapting to the new planet they govern. Paul watches his family fall victim to total political assassination. Only Paul, his mother Lady Jessica, and a few servants remain. Most others in power are under the impression that all the members of the House Atreides have been vanquished. There are also rumblings from some of the more fundamentalist individuals among Fremen people on Arrakis that a Mahdi – or Messiah– is on the way. Some are wondering if the Madhi could be Paul.

The opening screen from the Dune Part II (2024) Fan-First early IIMAX screening.
The opening screen from the Dune Part II (2024) Fan-First early IIMAX screening. Credit: Hailie Gold

The review ahead is spoiler-free for Dune Part II!

Dune Part II dives right in where we last left our heroes. Paul Atreides is living and working with the Fremen that he and Lady Jessica encountered at the end of the first film. Throughout this period, we get to see the nature of Paul’s relationship with Chani (Zendaya), a young Fremen warrior, as he learns to do things in a culture that is new to him. Because Paul learns more about how he is meant to fit into his world, it is shown how relationships (not just the one with Chani) can change.

Without giving too much away, some of Dune Part II‘s best moments of storytelling are how director Villeneuve works with new characters. This is often where film sequels fall flat. They don’t do enough to work with the characters the audience has yet to grow a relationship with. Dune Part II does not suffer that same fate because Villeneuve chooses to develop characters introduced near the end of the first film, but spends time examining how they relate to each other and the world around them. They are more than props for the plot to stand on.

Dune Part II has many newer and important characters to get the audience to understand, and hopefully care about like Chani and Stilgar (Javier Bardem) who got a touch of screen time in Dune‘s third act. Even Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) who was onscreen for seconds in Dune is critically important to remember and follow. The film does a nice job of jogging the memory and proceeding with new information about the characters.

Plenty of new characters are introduced too. The real scene-stealer of the movie is Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), the psychotic nephew of Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård). There are exciting reveals of characters to be further expanded on in the final pending installment of Dune too. One of the things that makes characters memorable in a film with such a confusing plot is how much the actors’ performances shine.

What do you mean acting in major film franchises can be good?

The acting in Dune Part II is stellar. It feels somehow criminal that a film that spends considerable time prioritizing story produces such impressive performances. You mean studios could have been doing this instead of putting out hot garbage acting?

An example of a performance that has been getting some mixed reviews is Austin Butler’s. Despite some people suggesting Butler’s work as Feyd-Rautha should steal him an Oscar nom, some think his work is a little silly for Dune Part II’s style. Other folks simply miss Sting who originated Butler’s role in the 1984 Dune film.

Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya seem like they both truly got their moment to show us what they’re capable of in this one. Chalamet specifically has finally traded in his puppy dog charm for wicked charisma. His Paul Atreides reminds us why leadership is not something to love, but to fear. Both Zendaya and Chalamet have played several iconic roles in film and TV between them, but the Dune movies are asking more of them than merely acting. This movie requires combat with hands and weapons, exposure to intense filming environments, and even learning languages the actors don’t speak. These languages are made up almost entirely. Either way, the outstanding performances promised by both actors over the last several years have been brought to life.

Paul (Chalamet) and Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) fight
Paul and Feyd-Rautha fight. Credit: Legendary Entertainment / Greig Fraser

Dune (the place).

The planet Arrakis is just as much a character in the Dune world as Paul and Chani. Because the world-building in the Dune franchise was already so well done, there was lots of space left for finer details. For the last twenty years, Hollywood has been struggling to balance credible-looking CGI with practical effects. The first major studio series to accomplish this, in my opinion, is the Dune franchise. Objectively, an audience knows that all the action is green screen, smoke, and mirrors, but Dune Part II is so shockingly credible that you wish it was real at times.

The beginning of the film and the perils of the sandy planet’s environment are occasionally cause for laughter. Dune Part II‘s screenplay does a nice job of balancing moments of humor among all of the difficult heady storytelling. The pace, the brief but frequent moments of humor, and the fantastical action make life on Arrakis and elsewhere come to life.

Two of the elements that make Arrakis pop are Hans Zimmer’s astounding and head-splitting film score and the cinematography. Zimmer’s score recalls the last Dune film, but it stands up on its own as well. It is epic in every sense of the word. Some of the sounds in the score seem imperceptibly quiet, when all of a sudden, it soars to triumphant brass highs.

This film was formatted for the IMAX experience. There is no denying that Greig Fraser’s rich cinematography is gorgeous on that big screen too, but it is a bit of a bummer that much of the experience relies on seeing the film in one specific presentation style. That is really the only harsh critique I can give Dune Part II.

Zendaya as Chani
Zendaya as Chani. Credit: Legendary Entertainment / Greig Fraser

Some parting statistics and media!

Since its pre-opening weekend fan screenings, Dune Part II has debuted as the current highest-rated film on IMDb, earning a 9.4 out of 10 among fans. It also now sits at 4.5 out of 5 stars on Letterboxd. As of February 28th 2024, Dune Part II landed the 21st spot on Letterboxd’s official 250 Highest Rated Narrative Films.

Since November, the upcoming Dune film has fought hard to remain in the public imagination. The release date was delayed from the holiday season because of the actor and writer strikes. Since then (and before then), though, the film has drummed up a lot of attention. Largely for the movie tie-in merch. It’s hard to open up social media without catching a glimpse of the Sandworm popcorn bucket. It is so popular that it inspired a Saturday Night Live sketch. The bucket even has the director talking:

Even with the silliness of the marketing, Dune Part II is the type of film that crawls into your brain and settles there. Upon exiting the theatre, all I could think about was how badly I wanted to see it again. This is a film that reminds audiences all that films are capable of being.

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twenty-three year old lover of film, books and rock n roll

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