Dune: Part Two Review

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Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

“Dune: Part Two” is one of the most anticipated films of the year. I was lucky enough to catch an early IMAX screening of it. We pick up directly after “Part One”, where Paul Atreides is learning the Fremen ways. He forms a relationship with Chanii, a young Fremen woman who is skeptical of Paul’s messianic portrayal in the community. Through this union, he seeks revenge against the Harkonnens for killing his family. As Paul rises to power, his visions grow more disturbing. Can Paul prevent a terrible future? Or will he be the reason it becomes reality?

Positives:

As one would expect from a Denis Villleneuve film, the production design is immaculate. This was also the best part of the first film. It’s rare that a film feels as immersive and raw as this. Viewers are transported to the desert with these characters, where the wind blows in between their clothes, the heat warms the skin, and the sand grazes their hands. The level of detail paid to the world building is truly impressive. The costume design, makeup, and special effects are also top notch. This adds to the world being built, fleshing out the different cultures, ideologies, and perspectives of each group of characters. The sound is also a strong point. Each scene that features explosions and action sequences are noticeably better than others in the genre. The sandworm riding scene and knife duel at the end are particular standouts. But one of my favorite aspects of the film is the score. Hans Zimmer strikes again, creating a booming and immersive series of tracks that are as epic as can be. I’d put this among his best along with his compositions in “The Dark Knight”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Gladiator”, and “The Lion King”. 

There are lots of ideas explored within the world of “Dune”. I enjoy when sci-fi can combine big spectacle with complex thematic exploration. The movies that blend this most effectively are usually remembered the best, and for many people “Dune: Part Two” will be a pioneer for modern day science fiction. Religion, power dynamics, and destiny are the most prominent themes explored here, where Paul’s standing in the story is the most vulnerable. His messianic symbolism causes friction amongst the Fremen, where regional divides play a massive part in his rise to power. His mother is the culprit of it all which is a very interesting change of pace from the first film. We see how Paul and his mother harness power for very different reasons. Paul moreso for genuine interest in helping the Fremen and avenging his family, where his mother is leaning into her Bene Gesserit selfishness. This is a fascinating dynamic that creates massive consequences by the film’s conclusion. 

Warfare and control are also highlighted to a further degree in “Part Two”. Everything in the central conflict is escalated to a higher degree, which is what I was hoping for. I’m greatly intrigued by the ideas and warnings that “Dune” highlights through its complex characters and multifaceted story. Most of the performances carry these themes well. The cast is overloaded with talent so it’s hard to find standouts. There is not a weak link among them, so credit to the filmmaker for his ability to bring out the best in everyone. Director Denis Villeneuve has a distinct style to which he outlines his films. They are unique and dark. “Part Two” increases the creepy imagery, hypnotic ambiance, and intense presentation. I really appreciate that he is willing to create films that are distinct, different, and bold. We need more of that in Hollywood. 

Negatives: 

I know many film enthusiasts will portray “Dune: Part Two” as one of the best films of this generation. But I have to be honest with myself and those who read my reviews…I don’t think it’s THAT good. In fact, I think there are a lot of problems with the film, particularly in the character department. We live in a day and age that thrives in extremes, where films are either the best thing since sliced bread or a hot pile of steaming garbage. It seems that many people feel like they have to blend in with the crowd or be a contrarian just to spite viewers. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I liked the film and feel that it does a lot of good for cinema, but there are some glaring issues I have with the way the film is presented. I can confidently say that “Dune” is not for everyone. It is in a corner of the sci-fi genre that is more complex than most, which will alienate certain groups of people but impress the target audience. I find that franchises like “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” are created with more accessibility. They still explore complex themes while having a healthy balance of genre satisfying content. “Dune” on the other hand relies on extremely dense levels or lore and mythological exploration. It does so in a slow burn fashion, letting the imagery and hypnotic presentation lead the way. The film leans into its artistic tendencies, proudly emphasizing the style and complexity. While it’s no doubt unique, I feel like I’m a kid trying out for an elite club. I try so desperately to see what the fuss is about, building a sense of intrigue and curiosity…but often find myself alienated and disinterested after finding out what it’s all about. Certain audiences will eat “Dune” up, but I haven’t found myself in that camp yet. 

The most frustrating part of “Part Two” is my same complaint about “Part One”: the characters. I consistently found myself at arms length with them. No matter how hard I tried to buy into their missions or understand their place in this universe, I felt that their presentation in the film was underexplored. From the heroes to the villains, their characterizations are again surface level. In particular, I felt Paul and Chani’s romance was undercooked, where we had to accept that this is the direction they are going rather than truly believing they loved each other. I wanted to see how each character was perceiving the conflict at hand, how the drive for spice production was affecting their family, and how Paul’s growing power was influencing their side of the world. I spend an extensive amount of time looking into the “Dune” lore which helped me piece things together, but this is not on display in the film. There are constant logic gaps and unexplained aspects to the story that could have been helpful to the general movie goer. It seems to be complex just to appear more interesting, where for me it was frustrating. Villeneuve is more interested in a stylistic presentation of this world that transports audiences to another place. That’s a great idea, but he can’t forget to include interesting people in his story that propel the plot forward. That’s what makes it even more frustrating…that there is a clear template for rich and complex characters! We just need to explore them on a much greater level. “Part Two” yet again leaves character development as a secondary component to the world building and stylistic flare. That’s a shame because “Dune” is so close to being amongst the greats. If Villeneuve continues with “Dune: Messiah”, the final chapter in Paul’s journey, I urge him to place more emphasis on developing these characters and explaining the world he sets up.

Conclusion:

I certainly have a lot of thoughts on “Dune: Part Two”. While there are incredible highs, there are some disappointing lows. The production design is top notch, crafting a world that feels lived in. I truly felt like this was a movie experience that is necessary to be seen on the big screen. The film is big, bold, and memorable in many ways. But yet again, I felt that the characters are less interesting than they should be. They’re presented in a way that feels secondary to the immaculate world building and mind blowing special effects. “Dune” has so much going for it, but the distinct presentation will no doubt discourage certain viewers. In general, I’d recommend the film for those who bought into the first one. It does everything that fans enjoy about the first and doubles down on most of those aspects. But I’d honestly steer those away from “Dune: Part Two” that weren’t fans of the first. It is slow, overly complex, and doesn’t take full advantage of the fascinating premise it outlines. I have no doubt the film will clean up during the 2024 awards season. There’s a lot to like about “Dune” Part Two”, but don’t expect to be won over if the first wasn’t the most palatable.