Dune: Part Two REVIEW – We’re Dune Our Part

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Dune Part Two
Dune Part Two

After Denis Villeneuve’s first Dune film ended rather unceremoniously near the middle of Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune: Part Two brings things home with a near perfect adaptation of the book’s back half. Which is to say, the film, like its source material, is a brilliant, breathtaking piece of worldbuilding with an alright story and some shoddy writing. But because this is cinema, the worldbuilding isn’t merely conceptual, and in the hands of Villeneuve and his talented collaborators, is instead a full aural and visual barrage — and what a beautiful barrage.

The film opens with striking images of the devastation left by the last film’s major battle and a “last time on Dune” voiceover from new character Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh). But it doesn’t take long to return us to protagonist Paul (Timothee Chalamet), now among the Bedouin-inspired desert-dwelling Fremen, the indigenous people of the all-important spice producing planet Arrakis. In the desert, Paul and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) live and fight alongside the Fremen as they use guerilla tactics to repeatedly strike against the ruling Harkonnen family, the same family responsible for the murder of Paul’s father.

The plot of Dune: Part Two is, at a glance, simple enough: Paul and his mother work with the Fremen to bring down a common enemy, and along the way Paul becomes a messianic figure for the Fremen. The world surrounding that simple plot makes the film a spectacle. Dune: Part Two revels in its meticulously created world; equal parts brutalist architecture and unending vistas of orange sand, set to an enveloping score from Hans Zimmer.

Zimmer’s work here makes use of the now much-memed “Bwong” he made famous with his Inception score, but it’s part of a larger whole that’s full of propulsive percussion, heavily distorted guitar chugging, staticky drones that approach noise music, and some gorgeous, more classically adventurous and sweeping pieces. Those sounds work in tandem with Villeneuve and cinematographer Greig Fraser’s often larger than life compositions that show off just how grand the world of Dune is. Whether it’s aerial shots of a gladiatorial arena or point of view shots of characters witnessing others riding on the backs of the giant sandworms that live on Arrakis, the images are, for lack of a better word, epic.

That impeccable skill with scale functions in the action sequences as well, with several firefights and battle scenes emphasizing the strategic moves of combatants, and offering up some of the most satisfying massive explosions recently set to film. Sadly, that doesn’t translate to the more intimate scenes of bladed combat, which are passable but far from the balletic bouts of the John Wick films or the brutality of something like The Raid. These smaller fights have some minor moments of drama and suspense, yet never succeed as thrilling pieces of action cinema.

The major success of the monumental and the not-quite-failure of the small scale fight scenes is indicative of the film as a whole. The script is often clumsy and trips over itself to ensure that we understand plot points and character motivations. In fact, most of the changes from Herbert’s novel rob the story of its complications and ambiguities, essentially spoon feeding themes so there can be no misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

Not all of Dune: Part Two’s problems are unique to the film, though. In fact, you wonder why some changes were not made, in both this and the first film, to the book’s cartoonishly evil characterization of the Harkonnen clan. Or why big bad Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) is the only fat character in the film, retaining the book’s tying of fatness to evil. It also seems that some of the book’s pacing issues, shifting abruptly from a deliberate pace full of diversions and details to a rushed final act that blows through plot points, could have been fixed in this adaptation. Instead, there’s a distinct feeling of “we’ve gotta wrap this up” to the finales of both.

Dune: Part Two succeeds where it’s most important for an adaptation of Herbert’s novel to succeed; in bringing the world of the novel to life. Arguably, it also succeeds in adapting the narrative of the book. But the book is a flawed work and instead of amending the book’s flaws, the changes made for the film add to them. Those flaws don’t make the film’s narrative a failure, but they make it pale in comparison to the images and sounds that surround it.

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Dune Part Two
Dune: Part Two is a stunning piece of cinema that brings the world of its source material to life, but can’t deliver a story that matches the brilliance of its world.