Review: Dune: Part 2

Denis Villeneuve returns with part 2 of his Dune saga; so let’s see if it has been worth the wait…

What’s Going On?

Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica
Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica //credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Paul Atreides finds himself living with the Fremen, the oppressed people of Arrakis, after the destruction of his family and House Atreides, a plot put in place by the Emperor and House Harkonnen, the latter finding themselves once again in control of the lucrative planet. Paul must find a path seeking justice and/or revenge against the Harkonnens, the Emperor and all those responsible and getting his potential fremen allies on board. As some fremen see Paul as a messianic leader his mother urges him to embrace that title while he is reluctant, seeing only more death following that path.

In Front Of The Camera

Christopher Walken as The Emperor
Christopher Walken as The Emperor // Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Much of the cast from Dune returns (minus a fair few of House Atreides), Timothee Chalamet as Paul, Dave Bautista as Beast Rabban, Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica (Paul’s mother), Stellan Skarsgard as Baron Harkonnen. But it seems to make more sense to focus on the new cast members. Christopher Walken plays the Emperor, an aged but savvy monarch. Walken portrays him as an intelligent and ruthless man, not terribly focused on the trappings and pomp of power but more on the substance of it. Florence Pugh plays Princess Irulan, the Emperor’s daughter and heir, a thoughtful woman who provides a lot of narration in the writing of her journal and seems constantly torn between a dozen different loyalties. Then there is Austin Butler playing Feyd-Rautha of House Harkonnen, seemingly a psychopath amongst the already pretty psychotic House Harkonnen. Butler presents us with a vicious and intelligent killer – opposed to Beast Rabban’s wild fighter.

Behind The Scenes

Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha
Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha // Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The film is directed by Denis Villeneuve who has made such brilliant films as Sicario, Blade Runner 2049, Arrival and more. It would be fair to say he is a filmmaker on a streak.

The film is written by Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts – who worked on such films as Prometheus, Doctor Strange and Passengers. And of course the film is based on the series of Dune novels by Frank Herbert.

A Guide To The Factions of Dune

The Imperium – galactic spanning Empire, everyone you see is living in this Empire.

House Atreides – one of the “Great Houses” of the Imperium, rich and powerful they were all but wiped out in Dune Part One.

House Harkonnen – another Great House, they look and act creepy and are obviously evil bad guys. They see controlling Arrakis as key to their family’s power.

Fremen – the first to settle on the planet thousands of years ago, seen as barbarians by much of the Imperium, and whoever controls the planet trying to extract spice must deal with them. The Harkonnens through violent oppressions whereas House Atreides attempted peaceful co-operation. The Fremen can be further broken down into northern and southern, the southern believing more strongly in the various messianic stories, whereas the northern seeing a fremen lead uprising as the only option.

The Bene Gesserit – a secretive order of advisors, spies and maybe witches, who are seen throughout the film playing four-dimensional political chess, raising some up and destroying others. Lady Jessica is a member of this group and as such the odd powers of the group have also been inherited by Paul.

Does It Work?

Zendaya as Chani
Zendaya as Chani // Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

First and foremost Dune: Part 2 is visually spectacular. Just about every shot looks amazing – from people riding sandworms to someone recording a diary. It is an adaptation of a sci-fi epic that genuinely brings the appropriate level of epic-ness to the screen. That aside the film is still great. Dune: Part 1 sometimes felt like it was just setting the stage for Dune Part 2 and if it was…that was time well spent.

The central tension of the film is whether Paul will accept the quasi-religious mystical role as the messiah of the Fremen or if he will continue as a political figure and try to convince them. Everyone around Paul has an opinion. One of the reasons Paul does not want to take up this role is because it is explicitly stated that this interpretation of the prophecy – that their messiah will not come from this planet – was cultivated by the Bene Gesserit, so naturally Paul is uncomfortable in manipulating the beliefs of the Fremen for his own purposes. One of the strongest voices for Paul to do this is his mother – who early in the film takes on a very new, very weird role/persona – exhibiting a single-mindedness not seen in Lady Jessica before.

The complex politics of the Femen are tricky for Paul to navigate – Chani, his close friend and lover, is vehemently opposed to the idea of the messiah, whereas the leader of the Fremen group Paul is part is immediately enthusiastic. As vicious war is waged by both sides decisions become more complicated and less about personal beliefs or relationships.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides

Chalamet is a very interesting Paul Atreides, especially in the first half of the film where he is trying to make this decision. Rebecca Ferguson and Stellan Skarsgard somewhat steal the show. Ferguson as Lady Jessica is extremely compelling and concerning, never sure what she is going to do. Skarsgard is gruffly intimidating to everyone, being physically manipulated by bizarre technology and just always always always doing or saying something creepy.

More could have been done to show the Harkonnens as a genuine threat and capable force and not simply a bunch of psychotic weirdos who it is assumed are actually good at what they do. And sometimes the reasoning behind major decisions by some of the characters is not terribly well explained. A lot of this may be in trying to condense an epic and at times very peculiar series of books into a more mainstream film (after all, there was a reason David Lynch was chosen to direct the first one), with majestic and baffling drug infused visions being a key part of the books.

Overall, Villeneuve has done something very impressive and made a great film, perhaps not quite as great as possible but the fact that it isn’t perfect shouldn’t take away from just how good it is.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Also Read: Review: Dune

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Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.