Dune Part 2: Another Review

Dune Part 2: Another Review

Dune Part 2: Another Review. By Joe Muldoon.

Fritz Lang, George Lucas, Ridley Scott; the lineage of great sci-fi directors is extensive, but Dune: Part Two serves as an incredibly strong case to make the claim that Villeneuve is the greatest of all time. Maximalist in every conceivable way, the Canadian’s latest offering is an absolute masterclass not only in space operas, but also science fiction filmmaking itself. 2021’s Dune: Part One set a rather high bar for itself, but Part Two sent it into the stratosphere, far above Arrakis.

Immediately picking up from the events of its predecessor, Part Two has Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) joining the ranks of Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and Chani (Zendaya), members of the Fremen, desert-dwelling Arrakis natives. Survivors of the devastating attack upon House Atreides by the brutish Harkonnens, Paul and Jessica are now exiles, largely believed to be dead.

Having overcome a Harkonnen attack en route to the Fremen settlement of Sietch Tabr, mother and son are met with a mixture of suspicion and welcoming; some believe them to be spies, and others believe they are the fulfilment of a prophecy to free Arrakis and to start a holy war. Their individual paths become clear: Paul is to embrace the Fremen ways and lead them, and Jessica is to succeed the Fremen’s dying Reverend Mother.

It’s here that the (particularly Islamic) influence of prophetic religion upon Herbert’s writing begins to take centre stage, though is still partially diluted from its source material. Stilgar, a native of the fundamentalist South, rapidly becomes staunch in his belief that Paul is the Lisan al Gaib, the messianic figure as prophesied to his people. Representing the more sceptical Fremen is Chani, a native of the North, who joins others in not believing the prophecy.

With Jessica having consumed the Water of Life, she has inherited not only the mantle of Reverend Mother, but also the memories of all her predecessors – as she points out to Paul, this traumatic ascension includes inheriting all of their tears, pain, and suffering. Undoubtedly anticipating the discourse that has since grown concerning cultural appropriation, Villeneuve delicately but directly tackles this through Paul and Jessica’s self-insertion into Fremen culture.

Jessica’s manipulation of the fundamentalists through the implanted prophecy of the Lisan al Gaib is as skilful as it is sinister, as is Paul’s militant ascent. The Bene Gesserit’s presentation as a more outwardly nefarious entity –“we don’t hope, we plan”– provides genuine chills, particularly helped along by Charlotte Rampling’s marvellous performance as the stony-faced Reverend Mother Mohiam. The display of religious fanaticism is critiqued in such a way that it isn’t parodied for the sake of belittlement, but rather approached as a product of external exploitation.

Totally unforgettable are the performances of Austin Butler and Stellan Skarsgård, their chemistry creating an utterly repulsive combination that is as sickening as it is menacing. Though he has relatively little screenplay, Butler elevates the movie to a new level, his presence as the psychotic Feyd-Rautha shockingly enchanting, dominating every scene in which he appears. It seems uncontroversial to say that Butler’s Feyd-Rautha is one of the greatest villains in recent memory.

With recent critical failures from the MCU having cost upwards of $250 million whilst feeling like they cost a fraction of that (a result not of untalented VFX artists, but of unsustainable and punishing working conditions and turnarounds), it makes Dune: Part Two’s budget of $190 million all the more remarkable. In every sense of the phrase, Dune: Part Two is a visual marvel and a testament to it being a true labour of love by all who worked on it.

Shot entirely in IMAX, the cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking. The seemingly endless Jordanian desert truly brings Arrakis to life, the sweeping sands looking positively vibrant and magically never appearing monochromatic. With Oscar-winning cinematographer powerhouse Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, The Batman, The Creator) by his side, Villeneuve –a deeply visual filmmaker in all respects– has managed to create one of the most gorgeous films of the science fiction canon itself.

With few novels having gained such a devoted fanbase or having sold nearly as many copies as Herbert’s 1965 original, nitpicky comparisons to the source material have always been inevitable, as was the case with Part One. And as testament to the sheer quality of Part Two, few complaints have been voiced from even the most protective of fans. It’s quite fair to say that the Dune universe is one of the most difficult to adapt into any medium, as has been demonstrated with previous entertaining but ultimately unsuccessful attempts – and yet it’s been adapted, and adapted well – complexities, nuances, and all.

Though some minor changes were made, with the absence of Thufir Hawat being the most notable, they don’t detract from the quality as an adaptation or as a sequel in itself; at risk of incurring the wrath of my fellow book fans, I’d like to suggest that many of the minor changes improve upon the source material itself. Zendaya, for example, is refreshingly animated as Chani, a pleasant development from her stoic appearance at the climax of Part One, and of her literary counterpart.

As was the case with Part One, the pacing of Part Two is noticeably uneven, making it feel slightly top-heavy, though not to its overall detriment. For much of its 167-minute runtime, the action builds itself up slowly but surely, teasingly incremental in its climb – but in its final act, Paul’s story hurtles its way towards a thunderous, earth-shattering climax. And then, at its crescendo, we finish. A coital rhythm, as its original visionary intended, deliberately uneven, but always growing. And the payoff is worth it.

By Joe Muldoon.

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