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Movie Review: “Dune: Part Two”

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          I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first installment of director Denis Villeneuve’s take on the Frank Herbert sci-fi classic “Dune” back in 2021. The sounds and visuals were great, and I understood why it won so many technical Oscars that year, but I couldn’t get invested in the characters or story, so I didn’t recommend the film. I feel the same way about “Dune: Part Two,” but somehow the dynamic has shifted without anything really changing. The characters and story arcs are still baffling to keep straight (and as with the “Demon Slayer” movie last week, this doesn’t make for a great entry point into the series), but the sounds and visuals are so awesome that I give it a recommendation. I guess I could chalk it up to going into the film with a little more familiarity with the property, having seen the first movie, but I’d like to think that Villeneuve has just upped his game in some subtle fashion.

            The story this time sees hero Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) living full-time, and stripped of his noble title, on the sand planet Arrakis, known for its valuable “spice.” He joins up with the good-but-rebellious Fremen, led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem), in their war against evil spice-controllers House Harkonnen. Stilgar and other Fremen believe that Paul may be a messiah sent to win them the war, so much so that his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is immediately granted the high religious position of Reverend Mother and all the powers and responsibilities that come with it. Paul, his mother, his mentor Gurney (Josh Brolin), and his warrior girlfriend Chani (Zendaya) know he’s no messiah, but he starts to give input that turns the tide of the war, so are the Fremen so wrong to believe in him? Could it even be that he really is the messiah and never known it?

            Over on the bad guys’ side, Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) has been weakened, but is still alive following the battle with Paul’s father in the first movie. He has since put his nephew Glossu (Dave Bautista) in charge of his army, but Glossu is about as good at leading an army as Bautista was at being a lead babyface wrestler going into WWE WrestleMania ten years ago, which is to say not good at all. In fact, that’s probably why Paul is doing so well in battle – he’s up against a lousy opponent. The Baron is considering putting his younger, more sadistic nephew Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) in charge of the army instead. Also, everyone on Arrakis has to answer to Emperor Shaddam (Christopher Walken), who doesn’t care about the war and just wants spice harvesting to go smoothly for economic reasons. His daughter Irulan (Florence Pugh) is preparing to take over for him, she doesn’t have much of a role here but she’s sure to be given more development down the line.

            And I’m looking forward to seeing what happens down the line. Not so much for the still-bland story and characters, but just to see what this series can do to top itself as a sheer spectacle. After the first “Dune,” I didn’t care if we ever got another movie. But after “Part Two,” I care. Just my luck, I’m hearing that the next installment won’t be ready for at least five more years, but this movie is doing so well at the box office that the studio may tell the production to step on the gas. This is the kind of ambitious epic that doesn’t come along very often, so when it does, it makes for a special occasion, which is why I recommend springing for special large-scale theater experiences like IMAX or Dolby. This film is likely to fare even better than its predecessor at next year’s Oscars, and is frankly the first “must-see” film that I’ve seen in a long time.

Grade: B-

“Dune: Part Two” is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some suggestive material and brief strong language. Its running time is 166 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.