Dune: Part 2

Denis does Dune right. Doubly.

Preparing to write this review, I looked up my Dune review from back in 2021, and a lot of it applies to the second half. So for your convenience (okay, and mine), here’s part of what I said:

Frank Herbert’s 1965 quasi-biblical space opera came to be known as a sci-fi novel that even those not into the genre could enjoy. But the sheer magnitude, complexity and transcendental nature of the story has for decades eluded some of Hollywood’s greatest visionaries’ attempts to bring it to the screen.

Most notable would be David Lynch’s spectacular 1984 misfire, a colossal slog that relied overmuch on voiceovers to tell the story. There followed a raft of “inspired by” TV shows and miniseries, spinoffs and ripoffs, and Dune remained, in the jargon, unfilmable.

Until now. Enter French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario), who goes for broke and, for the most part, gets it right. He has ironed out many of the book’s convolutions while maintaining its emotional impact and political observations, and most importantly, he remains focused on the storytelling.

I have neither the space nor the inclination to explain the plot, but before you go into the theater, I highly recommend doing some homework by (1) reading the book or at least the Wikipedia synopsis, and/or (2) watching Jodorowsky’s Dune, a slightly hagiographic documentary on why the great visionary’s shot at it was doomed by unreasonable, cheapskate studio suits who wouldn’t sign off on a 15-hour movie.

This film’s success is owed in no small part to its spot-on cast. Timothee Chalamet takes the lead, and is backed up by Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgard, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Dave Batista, Charlotte Rampling and Zendaya. Not a bad performance in the lot. The stunningly gorgeous SFX exist to support the story, and the sound design and editing are Oscar-worthy.

Vast in scale and ambition and immaculately crafted, call it an arthouse blockbuster with Mad Max overtones and a hint of Lawrence of Arabia. Beaming ourselves now back to Part 2, this one of course picks up where the first movie left off, and again I’ll refrain from recounting the plot. But now that you’ve digested all the metaphysical mythology, this one offers up more spectacle, action and pure shock & awe. Cue the sand worms! Same great cast, this time augmented by Lea Seydoux, Austin Butler, Christopher Walken and Florence Pugh.

Some of the first half’s identities and relationships are fleshed out (Zendaya has way more to do) It’s busy, juggling too many plot lines at once, and it shouldn’t work. But it does.

Sour note: This is the second half of a genre-changing novel rather than a sequel, so it gets a pass. But given Hollywood’s penchant for milking a good thing until it’s a tired, trite thing, and Zendaya’s final worm-ride off into the sunset, an obvious set-up, we can probably expect more Dune flicks. But the filmmakers should keep in mind that Frank Herbert’s literary sequels, starting with Dune Messiah (now reportedly in development) were markedly inferior to the source concept. Just sayin’. (166 min)