Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Lead Them to Paradise: Dune: Part Two (2024) Review

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Notable Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, Lea Seydoux, Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling


Simply ending Dune: Part One on an emotional beat but with no actual resolution to most of its threading or characters is perhaps the one thing I struggled with in the first part of this two-part space opera epic. Denis Villeneuve is a master craftsman, but it's a bold choice when the second half of his film was never green-lit at the time. So, it’s with a relative sense of relief that Dune: Part Two DID get green-lit. Whew. Now I can watch the whole movie. Thanks, box office numbers and strong cult development on home video.  


However, the hype is very real going into Dune: Part Two - enough so that I struggled to find tickets for an IMAX screen on opening weekend to see the film on the biggest and loudest screen possible. The first part of this adaption of the Frank Herbert science fiction classic is damn near universally hailed as a masterpiece already, and now that Villeneuve and the team get to finish the story, I was on the hype train. Could the Dune duology be the iconic auteur director’s pinnacle?

Considering the immense critical praise and stunning box office numbers for Dune: Part Two, it might be safe to say that, yes, people are saying as much. Although I found Dune: Part Two to not be as strong as its predecessor in finding its balance, it is a high water mark for cinema thus far in 2024 and another slab of deliriously engaging and fantastical cinema. Gorgeously crafted, meticulously paced, and powered on the continuing themes of its predecessor, Dune: Part Two is Villeneuve making a statement. A statement about his career, the world we live in, and that the space opera crown no longer sits on the brow of Star Wars. 


As with the first film, Villeneuve showcases massive ideas and visuals with the utmost thoughtful care. Whether it is the sweeping vistas of the planet Arrakis’ deserts, shot with the gorgeous cinematography of the deserts around Abu Dhabi and Jordan, or the CGI-riddled Rorschach blotch visuals of the “villainous” planet of Giedi Prime, Dune: Part Two is simply a spectacle to look at. 


If anything, the film is lucky that Villeneuve and cinematographer Greig Fraser know how to shoot a beautiful film because the film does suffer from a bit of sameness when it comes to its desert landscaping throughout. It’s a welcome change of pace when the film takes a massive detour to introduce one of its villains, an almost unrecognizably sinister Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha, on the black-and-white planet. Considering how much of the film is yellow and brown desert tones (a repeated visual motif that parallels the repeated phrase ‘desert power’), the leap to this inky planet is almost a relief. Fortunately, the film is so well shot that it’s not nearly as daunting as it might have been, even if I found myself worn a bit thin by its repeated visual schemes.


Still, that’s a relatively nitpicky comment about a film with such a visual presence. The execution of the film on every level is top-notch. The score, the performances, the visual effects—you name it—it’s an impressively crafted film. 


In particular, the performances remain layered and nuanced in ways that add much depth to what could have been broadly painted characters. Dune: Part Two makes some fascinating shifts with its narrative compared to its predecessor, especially in shifting the narrative away from the political stage setting towards a more spiritual tonality. These shifts bring Zendaya’s Chani to the forefront as a larger protagonist and perhaps the biggest emotional arc of the film. Sure, Chalamet’s Paul remains the main driver of the plot. He continues his path toward fulfilling the prophecy that has his character become the savior of Arrakis. Chalamet continues to ride that line of hero and villain in some fascinating ways, but it’s Chani that ultimately steals this film. 


There’s a lot of dynamic shifting for its characters with Rebecca Ferguson stepping back as an emotional pillar for the film to be replaced by Bardem’s Stilgar, who also acts as the film’s comedic relief in a perhaps the boldest and most surprisingly effective choice. The landscape of Dune: Part Two is littered with these lived-in characters, and while I didn’t love how they seemingly sideline Ferguson and push her toward a stoic character, it works for what the film is aiming for in terms of delivering its main narrative. 


However, the film also becomes heavy with all of its world-building that it continues to do. If Dune: Part One was laying the groundwork, Dune: Part Two only continues to build it rather than necessarily closing many of its threads. Yes, this film ends the adaption of the first Dune novel, but it’s undeniable by its final act that this series is not done. If anything, Dune: Part Two generally feels like the middle part of a trilogy rather than the final part of a duology and that left me feeling a certain way by the time the credits rolled. Perhaps that taste will fade with another watch or two, but right now, it left me feeling as though it didn’t quite knock it out of the park by the end.  With a possible Dune Messiah adaption on the way, this shouldn’t be as surprising as it felt when I saw it in theaters. 


Nonetheless, despite some nitpicking on my part, Dune: Part Two is a stunningly potent blockbuster. It’s gorgeous, smartly written, and crafted like pure art while delivering the spectacle required of a blockbuster film. Denis Villeneuve proves once again that he’s one of the best auteur directors. While I personally don’t believe that these films are his best efforts, his continued delivery of high-quality cinema remains intact. Dune: Part Two is what the fans wanted and needed. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider

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