de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

After impressing audiences and critics with the deserts of Arrakis in 2021 with Dune: Part One, the grandiose space opera continues on in Dune: Part Two. The middle section of filmmaker Dennis Villeneuve’s visionary adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 novel about various forms of power is an improved continuation of its Oscar-winning predecessor. Marked with more dramatic energy, jaw-dropping set pieces, and a staggering climax that rivals the endings of other sci-fi epics like Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Matrix, the latest has more dramatic momentum, narrative pull, and more compelling supporting characters than the first, which was very exposition-driven. This is a satisfying follow-up that is even larger in scope and every bit as fantastical and bold in its approach.

Certainly, there haven’t been that many sci-fi films that ever felt as epic as Dune: Part Two, yet structurally and narratively, there is much that feels familiar. That’s because a lot of the themes and even images have been reworked before. George Lucas was clearly influenced by the book Dune with Star Wars, as was Ridley Scott with the Alien series, and the list goes on. In fact, Alejandro Jodorowsky was supposed to direct Dune in the 1970s until the project was deemed unfilmable and he couldn’t secure the final backing from the major studios. The documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014) reveals how his director’s notebook, which included conceptual artwork and storyboards, was leaked throughout Hollywood. In almost every corner of the sci-fi genre, Dune has been a great influence.

Dune: Part Two (2024) - IMDb Courtesy Warner Bros.

Even David Lynch’s 1984 Dune adaptation was an honorable and fascinating failure, in part because his vision was compromised, and his adaptation was butchered by the studios. Ever since, Villeneuve has proven to have the chops to direct something of this caliber. Especially after the results of his other impressive sci-fi endeavors like Arrival (2016), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Now, in 2024, Villeneuve’s artistry can try to match Frank Herbert’s vision. Like the first, the film is ambitious, visually bold, and uncompromising. Despite some imperfections with the narrative that holds some muddled plotting and hurried exposition, Dune: Part Two is a spectacular experience that must be experienced on the largest Imax or screen that you can find.

While the first film also held a lot of visual grandeur, there were moments where it felt dramatically inert and dry, and Villeneuve’s execution felt like an overstuffed half of a film, which it was. However, Dune: Part Two is more dramatically charged, in more control, and even more awe-inspiring, and it feels like there is so much more at stake. It doesn’t rely on as much exposition on the planet of Arrakis, but there are some thoughtful themes on power, war, and fanaticism that stay true to Herbert’s allegory on Western imperialism and the abuse of power. Watching the latest reveal parallels in the modern conflicts going on today between Israel and Palestine or even Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While the film builds up the old-fashioned arc of “Chosen One” messiah, Dune: Part Two excels and is a great relief in showing how blockbusters can still be sophisticated, high-minded, and hold creative skill while still offering excitement.

The saga begins right where the first film left off, where the Freman are transferring the dead corpse of Janis (Babs Olusanmokum) to his home after Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) kills Jamis during a knife duel after Janis threatens to kill his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) for Paul disarming him in the first film. The fellow Fremen drain out Janis’s fluids, and Paul is still in shock after a coup by their nemesis, the Harkonens, that left his father dead. The Harkonnen’s, led by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), are still determined to conquer the planet of Arrakis. Meanwhile, Paul ends up banding with the indigenous Freman people, who end up praising him as a potential messiah to help them protect their planet and crucial spice resources. The Harkonnen’s commander in these invasions is led by Baron’s nephew, the brutish Glossu Rabban Harkonnen (Dave Bautista), and he unleashes very aggressive attacks on the Freman, which have some astounding battle sequences that draw some contrast between the fascist Harkonnen military against the Freman tribal warriors who use the sands of the desert to their advantage.

Dune: Part Two (2024) Courtesy Warner Bros.

Amongst the conflict, we get fewer scenes of Baron Harkoonon in this one, but he still holds great impact as he continues to bathe in black sludge as his quest for power grows even more sinister. Meanwhile, fellow Freman tribal leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem) attempts to persuade Paul that he is the chosen one that has been in the Freman prophecies for generations. Chalamet does an exceptional job in his character arc as being a vulnerable and polite young man into a combative warrior, who ends up being given the tribal name of Muad’Dib as he vows to join the alliance with the Freman to avenge and to fight against the Harkonnone’s He begins to have visions that guide him to his greater purpose. He ends up falling in love with Freman warrior Chani (Zendaya), who is more secular and isn’t convinced of the fundamentalism that Stilgar and his fellow warriors believe in. Her character brings a moral center to the film, emphasizing the virtues of being free and independent from tyranny and the potential abuse of power. There are many breathtaking sequences in the film where Paul and other fellow Freman ride the giant worms throughout the desert that recall Avatar: The Way of Water. 

New characters and new planets are introduced in this middle section. In the beginning, we’re introduced to Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken), an Emperor of the Known Universe, who informs his daughter, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), and her mother, Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling), about the current conflict in Arraksi. The narrative reveals that he’s behind the destruction of the House of the Artiedas that exile Paul was once the duke of.

Dune: Part Two (202

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Throughout the heavy plotting, the drama keeps you engaged, and nearly all of the actors are fully embodied in their roles. Lea Seydoux gives a scene-stealing scene as Lady Margot Fenning, an informant for Shaddam IV who infiltrates the House Harkonnen planet during a stunning black-and-white cinematography that aesthetically represents a colorless world. Bene Gesserit ends up encountering the sadistic Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), the nephew of Baron Vladimir, who is victorious against imprisoned warriors during a bone-crunching colosseum battle.

Gessert observes his vulnerabilities, and she uses her psychic abilities to put Feyd-Rautha into a trance that will inevitably guide his fate and elevate the future of humanity. Yes, the dense material goes very deep. Both Seydoux and Butler are very effective in their roles. I could have used more scenes of Lady Margot Fenning, who is the most fascinating character in the saga thus far. Butler is very ominous and brutal in his role, one that contrasts the evil of the baron.

Dune 2

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Most sci-fi aficionados and lovers of fantasy will find the two Dune films to be extraordinary in the way they immerse you in other worlds that feel unique. This is all in part due not only to Villeneuve’s vision and laborious directing skills but also to the exceptional crew and set departments, costumes, hairstyles, make-up, special effects, and the cinematography by Greig Fraser, which is certainly towering. Once again, Hans Zimmer’s robust score holds many tones and delivers the perfect atmosphere of the action and drama that is on display.

On a writing level, co-writers Jon Spaihts and Villeneuve do the novel justice. The drama is more satisfying and gripping, and I found myself a lot more invested in the material this time around. Although the segments of Paul Atreides maneuvering himself from warrior to messiah didn’t quite feel that seamless and felt rushed in the build-up. Regardless, Chalamet balances the transformation quite well with his performance that sells it, which is a difficult task as we saw a young Kyle MacLachlan struggle through that role in Lynch’s Dune.

Film Updates on X: "Austin Butler and Léa Seydoux in 'DUNE: PART TWO.'" / X Courtesy Warner Bros.

Yet, as monumental as Villeneuve’s endeavor is, he never loses sight of the story. While some detractors might still claim Dune is nearly impossible to adapt, there is some truth to that. It’s very lofty material, with so many characters and motivations and so many conflicts and layers. Some might find Villeneuve’s approach to be overly serious, which is in dire need of some exuberance, but there are many thrilling moments that feel extravagant. Besides, the writing doesn’t feel basic, and the drama never feels hackneyed like some other recent sci-fi films that has been released in the last few years. Here, most of the drama satisfies, and overall, Dune: Part Two is just a great improvement from the first film. Villeneuve also succeeds in allowing Dune: Part Two to feel like it stands on its own, and it is inevitable that this franchise will hold a timeless quality to it like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. However, the revisit quality remains uncertain due to just how high-minded and serious the material is. Regardless of its fate, this is a towering piece of cinema, a distinguished entry into the sci-fi genre, and a defining technical achievement as well.

DUNE: PART TWO opens in theaters Thursday, February 29th.