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Movie Review: Dune, Part Two

“You are not prepared for what is to come.”

After meeting the insanely high bar most Dune fans had set for Denis Villeneuve in Dune, Part One, the question remained of whether he could stick the landing. We needn't have worried.

First, there is the sheer technical prowess on display. The set design and costuming continue to impress as they visually inform the viewer of how and why the Empire works the way it does. The music and sound design help redefine the term epic and to say the cinematography is stunning is selling it short. Best of all, this is not the case of each department attempting to outshine the others, but masters of their craft doing what they do best in service of bringing a single vision to life.

Then there's the film's stellar cast. I've been a fan of Timothée Chalamet for a few years now and with each movie you can see his growth as an actor. This movie is no exception. His transformation from pampered teenager to warlord is impressive. However, it's his cast mates that elevate the movie. They give him something to work towards and fight against. This is especially true of Zendaya's Chani, who, after having only ten minutes of screen time and a handful of lines in the first movie, becomes the central player of this one. It's through her eyes we understand the true import of the unfolding events.

While fans of the book, myself included, would be perfectly happy with a fifteen hour movie that explored every nuance from the novel, reality dictated that Villeneuve had to streamline the story to fit into the two and a half hour window he was given. Yet, he never insults the audience by dumbing things down. And nothing feels rushed.

Instead, Villeneuve answers this conundrum in two ways. The first is to compress the timeframe of the book, which had a two year time gap. In this movie, the story picks up where the previous film leaves off. The result is an underlying tension where Paul is seemingly dragged towards his fate rather than becoming the master of it. This allows Villeneuve to remain true to the spirit of the novel without being beholden to it. It also avoided the need to find a toddler with the gravitas to match Charlotte Rampling, but I digress.

The second was to focus on two of the many threads found in the novel – Paul's quest to avenge his father's death and the Bene Gesserit's desire to create, and more importantly, to control the Kwisatz Haderach, a male Bene Gesserit with the power to see all of space and time. This enables Villeneuve to deliver a coherent narrative while still being able to delve into such heady topics as destiny versus free will and the relationship between religion and power. And where the first movie followed a traditional Chosen One framework while hinting at darker things, this movie delivers a straight up cautionary tale.

If you've seen the first movie, I suspect you already know whether you want to see this one. There's little I can say here that will sway you either way. Yet, as someone who has loved the books and each of the filmed adaptations, as flawed as they may be, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you to run, not walk to your nearest theater. This is how epic science fiction is meant to be done.

Now I can talk spoilers with a clear conscience. Phew!

At the risk of being sacrilegious, this version of Paul's story reminds me of Hamlet, where despite all his attempts to do the right thing he is inexorably led to a tragic end. Paul may be a good man, but he is not the hero of this story.

Jessica reminds Paul that his father wouldn't have chosen vengeance even as she pushes him to assume the mantle of the Fremen’s messiah with all its attendant power. And she is aided by Paul’s unborn but no less prescient sister, Alia. Why would any of that be necessary if not to win back his place among the Great Houses?

Paul’s desires are more modest. Yes, he wants the Harkonnens and the Emperor to pay for their treachery but he has no aspirations to lead the Fremen, let alone become a messiah. However, as with Hamlet, events conspire to put him on that path regardless of his personal desires.

Jessica and Alia aren’t the only forces to be reckoned with. As the movie progresses, Stilgar transforms from reluctant ally to friend and mentor to follower and religious fanatic. Stilgar’s faith forces both Jessica and Paul into fulfilling aspects of the Bene Gesserit’s prophecy. His belief is so strong that at one point he  demands Paul kill him in order to assume his place as a Fremen leader.

Gurney Halleck holds no such beliefs. However, his love and respect for Duke Leto and his bitter hatred of the Harkonnens pushes Paul towards war just as assuredly as Stilgar. And providing Paul with access to atomic weapons is even more of an incentive. With those, Paul is able to cripple spice production which threatens to topple House Harkonnen. It also allows him to manipulate the Emperor into surrendering his throne.

This is contrasted by Chani. She serves as a surrogate for the audience. A not quite so objective observer. For her, Paul is a respected fighter, and she values his willingness to fight with the Fremen while never losing sight of the fact that he’s still an outsider. As time passes, she falls for the man even while she watches with horror the effect he’s having on her people. In the first movie Chani talks about the cruelty of the Harkonnens and wonders who the Fremen’s next oppressor will be upon their departure. Unfortunately, she realizes the answer to that question is Paul. Her actions represent the biggest departure from the novel and yet they don’t feel out of place.

This is because Paul’s ability to rise to power was never the central conflict of this story. The question was never if Paul could or would avenge his father’s death and defeat the Emperor and the Harkonnens. It was at what cost. Paul’s fate was sealed the moment he turned south and consumed the Water of Life. One can argue whether Paul’s decision to drink it was an attempt to avoid the death of billions or simply to find a way to save Chani. In the end, it’s a distinction without a difference.

Neither the book nor the movie shies away from the danger Paul poses to the Empire. And both show Paul’s struggle to find a path that doesn’t lead to utter destruction. It’s just that the book allows you to believe he might have found it, leaving it to subsequent installments to document the holy war Paul has unleashed. The movie allows for no such illusions.

If left to my own devices I could write reams on the brilliance of various acting choices (shout out to Florence Pugh and Austin Butler) or Villeneuve's structural decisions and how they undergird his storytelling. Instead, I'll leave you with this. For all Villeneuve's skill at storytelling on a grand scale, the reason the movie works so well is his ability to explore interpersonal relationships in a way that packs an emotional wallop. This is one of the best arguments for the commercial viability of an artistic vision we’ve seen in years. Fingers crossed for Dune Messiah.

4.5 out of 5 Thumpers

Parting Thoughts:

I’m not always the biggest fan of IMAX. However, this is one movie where I would highly recommend it. At least see it in the theater. This movie was built for the big screen.

It still bugs me that the Fremen, for whom water conservation is paramount, rarely wear their stillsuits properly. I realize it would cover most of their face when out of doors, but still.

This is the second time in which Timothée Chalamet’s character will wed Florence Pugh’s. The last one being Little Women. Just sayin’.


The Sardaukar: “Power over Spice is power over all.”

Baron: “Tighten your grip, Rabban. Or feel mine on your neck.”

Stilgar: “The Mahdi is too humble to say he is the Mahdi.”

Chani: “This prophecy is how they enslave us!”

Emperor: “He was a man who believed in the rules of the heart, but the heart was not meant to rule.”

Chani: "Your blood comes from Dukes and Great Houses. We don’t have that here. Here, we’re equal. Men and women alike. What we do, we do for the benefit of all.”
Paul: “Well, I’d very much like to be equal to you.”

Princess Irulan: “You underestimate the power of faith.”

Reverend Mother Mohiam: “We don’t hope, we plan.”

Paul: “May thy knife chip and shatter.”

Jessica: “You chose the wrong side.”
Reverend Mother Mohiam: “You of all people should know by now, there are no sides, Reverend Mother.”

Paul: “Lead them to Paradise.”

Shari loves sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, and anything with a cape.


  1. Shari, thanks so much for covering this movie for us! I read the first book years ago -- and in fact read it more than once -- but I wasn't happy with the first movie and feel some reluctance to see these two. Although I'm glad it's at least two movies. You're right about it needing fifteen hours, at least. :)

  2. Thanks, Billie. If you liked the book, I think you'd really enjoy the movie. It's the most respectful adaptation we could probably hope to expect. Denis was obviously a huge fan.

  3. Shari - thank you so much for an exceptional review. You’ve really hit on some interesting themes here that I appreciated reading. The Hamlet reference is excellent. This is an easy movie to be in awe of, and one that takes more time to appreciate based on the themes and realization that Paul is not our hero.

    I think I could talk for hours about the Dune movies but find it much harder to write about them. Maybe with time once everyone has had a chance to see it there will be more discussion, but I will just say this. There is a ton of hype out there about this as one of the all time great Sci-fi movies. Trust what folks are saying. It’s worth a view.

  4. Thank you for your gracious comment. This was one of the longest reviews I've written but I felt like I didn't scratch the surface. So, I know how you feel. I hope more of my friends see it just so I can have those hours long discussions. Thanks again.

  5. I'm not sure I liked it quite so well as part one, but there's no denying this movie's epic ambition. It's a wild ride. It's not only a treat to see a world-famous sci-fi story be brought to life like this, but also just to see the range of sheer talent on display: Villeneuve, the actors, the camerawork, the sets, costuming, CGI artistry, soundtrack, etc. It's a true work of art, in addition to being an entertaining movie.

    Standout scenes: the opening battle between the Fremen and Harkonnens; Feyd Rautha's gladiator intro; the scene where Paul takes on his Fremen name(s) feels a lot more organic here than it did in the Lynch version or the book; the seduction of Feyd Rautha by Margot Fenring (the incomparable Lea Seydoux); Paul finally challenging all the Fremen and convincing them he's the Kwisatz Hadarach; the big duel at the end, natch.

    There are some omissions and certain creative choices I wasn't fond of, but I'm not sure if it's just my own personal nitpicks or a lack of understanding on account of only reading the first book and not Dune Messiah. Although, I'm really hoping there's some kind of director's cut that includes additional material.

    Either way, this movie was dope.

  6. No, I still don't get it. In both the reviews of Dune: Part One and now this one, the word epic was used. I don't think anyone really knows what epic means anymore, because these movies were not. And I really don't understand how people who admit to not liking the 1984 version of Dune can call this movie epic. It is NOT epic. The 1984 film, for all of its faults, actually was epic. In scope, in soundtrack, in vision, it was absolutely epic. These two movies were like watching science fiction versions of the Fast and the Furious. Absolutely mindless nonsense stories, with the most boring camera work I have seen recently, a completely forgettable soundtrack, and uninteresting story beats. But at least there was another action scene every couple of minutes. I can only chalk this up to the overall quality of the population, which needs movies like this to keep their attention span, which is unfortunately way too underdeveloped for a movie of the 1984 Dune's caliber.

    The actors were fine. Nothing special, but they did the best with what they had. I think the blame lays entirely on Villanueve's hands. He acted like he got Dune, like he really understood it. I don't know if he gets it, but whatever these two movies were, they didn't get it. Let's look, for example, at Feyd Rautha, who is supposed to be a perfect foil for Paul; intelligent and charismatic, but where Paul thinks of the people who follow him, Feyd thinks of nothing beyond himself. Sting may not be much of an actor, and he chewed the scenery like few people can, but at least he was entertaining. I couldn't wait to watch the fight between his Feyd and Kyle MacLachlan's Paul. With this movie, I barely cared if there even was a fight scene, and as I suspected, when it finally happened, it was as boring as any other fight where two people I don't care about circle around each other and have some mild back-and-forth wrestling.

    I don't mean to sound so harsh, and I have nothing against anyone who does like this movie. But I felt it was important for the sake of balance, to say that I thought both of these new Dune movies were not even close to what they should have been. As I said before, the 1984 David Lynch Dune had lots of faults. But it still was a much better, more interesting, and certainly far more epic movie than either of these two bland time-wasters.

    1. "Epic: a long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation.
      Relating to or characteristic of an epic."

      This definition applies to both adaptations. New Dune is as much an epic as old Dune, because both are adapting an epic story.

    2. Okay, good. They're both epics, but just because a story is an epic, doesn't mean it is good. The 1984 movie was really good, and these two movies were really not. If you like them, you can have them. I will rest easy never watching them again.
      Don't get me wrong; I do not subscribe to the general tribalism which is so prevalent in today's world. If you enjoyed them, I am genuinely happy for you. I kind of wish I enjoyed them more, too. But I didn't enjoy them, and the more I think about it, the more I compare it to the 1984 movie, which I found to be superior in virtually every way.

    3. JBA, I thought the 1984 movie was absolutely terrible. But if you enjoyed it, I'm happy for you.

    4. The 1984 movie had a lot of problems. They tried to jam too much of the story into one movie, the pacing was a bit slow and ponderous, they used way too much inner dialogue, rather than finding more interesting ways to tell us what people were thinking. But it was still a much better movie than these two new ones, which are flat, boring, and mindless.
      I am thankful, however, that you and I can have a discussion like this without bashing each other. This is something I have found to be very pervasive in other forums. People seem to be very much of a "tribal" mindset, where anyone who doesn't agree with them completely is of a different tribe and therefore must be treated as an enemy. Look at the people who talk about the Star Wars sequels versus the prequels. It isn't enough for them to simply agree to disagree; they feel they need to insult the "other". This is a big part of why I love your site, Billie.

    5. Perhaps the reason you've had negative experiences in other forums is because you do things like suggest the only reason people can like a thing you hate is due to the "overall quality of the population" and their lack of attention spans. You talk about how others feel they need to insult make their points, but I gotta say reading what you wrote really insulted my intelligence; if not for that, I could have easily abided your contrary opinion. It isn't that difficult to criticize movies you don't like without making scurrilous claims about the people who did like them.

    6. "He acted like he got Dune, like he really understood it. "
      With due respect, but I think the people complaining about Villeneuve's aesthetics not being "colorful" or "exciting" enough may have read the book but don't seem to have paid much attention to it's actual story, setting and themes and only focused on the occasional spice drug trips. Which I admit, Villeneuve could have made the spice moments a bit more interesting. But other than that, I don't know why people got the idea that Dune is this magical, exotic place. It's not. It's a highly austere, stripped down, brutalist environment, the entire Fremen culture is defined by scarcity and pragmatism. And the rest of the empire is supposed to be a stagnant, decadent , oppressive society.
      Go on google and look at the brutalist style of the original Dune covers illustrated by John Schoenherr. Frank Herbert himself was a fan of the art and said Schoenherr had managed to capture the “Dune mood”. You can see a straight line from that kind of aesthetic to Villeneuve's.
      Also, I can understand you not viking with the style or directing of Dune, but what exactly makes you think the plot is "nonsense"? What do you think is not clear? It is at the very least more of a direct adaptation of the original book, I found the story quite clear and coherent. Even the changes, like Chani's personality, were done in service of the book's theme of being wary of charismatic leaders and Messiahs (which some of the readers back then didn't get so Villeneuve made it more obvious)

  7. I'm waiting to to watch this one when it comes to VOD, because I just haven't been going to the theater (the last movie I saw on the big screen was The Marvels). I have never read the books, but the first part was wonderful, so I am looking forward to this one too.


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