‘Dune: Part Two’ – An Amazing Film with Real World Themes it Still Ignored

Dune: Part Two is a towering achievement in almost every way that is quantifiable, joining the growing list of sci-fi epics where the sequel outpaces an already heralded original. The majority of this review will be the ways it accomplishes this with a few, but noteworthy amounts of criticisms that keep it from being perfect. But I didn’t want to bury the lead in stating how great the film itself is because I couldn’t really write this review without acknowledging the film’s release, thematic framing in our real world, and the behavior of its performers in recent months.

I am a big Dune fan and I say that as a fan of the books that once believed them to be impossible to adapt faithfully. I enjoyed Denis Villeneuve’s initial entry (and all of his films, honestly) and really, really looked forward to how he would adapt the second half of the first book in the sequel. But I can’t, won’t pretend to ignore the world of Dune and the climate of the real world the movie’s sequel crystalized in. The largest controversy being Timothee Chalamet’s skit on SNL and which Hamas was used as a punchline in what was essentially the early days of this specific violent eruption that had already killed thousands and thousands of innocent Palestinians.

I have my skepticisms about the impact of celebrities role in global narratives in general and often feel that propaganda has more power to entrench people in their already established beliefs more often then it sways someone from one side to another. I know internet outrage machines usually depend on every action someone takes in the public eye as some huge factor in what happens all over the world, but I typically have a hard time getting on board with that. So in a vacuum, I think Chalamet’s joke (and the SNL writers) were in extremely bad taste and does demonstrate their lack of care and empathy they had for the Palestinian people (and let’s keep this a buck, probably for Brown and Black people all over), but I’m not mad at people for still wanting to watch a movie that said person stars in. Though, I don’t fault folks that will protest it either.

What is, enduring to me, is the plot of Dune and how we often learn so little from the art we create. The elevator pitch for Dune is that in the far future, a once privileged son of noble birth has his family and house obliterated but finds refuge with the indigenous people of a planet foreign to him. Believing him to be their messiah, he manipulates that population to fighting their oppressors, not for their benefit, but for his. And knowing his actions will lead to the literal deaths of billions across the galaxy, he still follows through because of his primary short term and personal goal. There are much better analogies in film to the Gaza conflict, (The Last of Us 2, comes to mind, though I don’t love the portrayals in that one either) but the oppression of a population living on a desired land, often referred to rats in the film is a bit hard to ignore. Unless, you’re in film, and it’s a job, and you can treat art with themes based on real life like you don’t live in that real world too. Its dispiriting and numbing honestly to see separating the art from the artist not only as a mantra for people that want to ignore the politics of art, but for it to basically become the gospel. Maybe I am the parental figure of the movies I watch now. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

Anyways, Dune: Part Two, as a film, is a technical achievement on the levels of cinema that I’m not sure I’ve seen in live action. Every scene is jaw dropping to witness. Typically, big budget films have a signature action scene that will live in the zeitgeist for years to come. Dune: Part Two has about 4 that I can think of immediately. Emotionally impactful moments linger in close-up on characters that amplifies the weight of their decisions, their actions, their connections to one another. The scale is appropriate as well. The desert is a character in itself, stretching on forever in each shot, the camera often pulled well behind the characters to demonstrate the endlessness of the landscape. And anyone that sees the film will obviously point to the use of black and white when the movie arrives on the Geidi Prime, the Harkonnen homeworld, and it not only makes the violence even more daunting and disturbing, but it gives a sense of that nuance here is lost and the agendas and goals of these people are straightforward. Often to the most ruthless ends.

As for the plot, the movie takes place right after the events of the first film, with Paul Atreides and his Lady Jessica seeking refuge among the Fremen of Arrakis, but still being hunted Harkonnen who want to eradicate the Atreides House. As the film progresses, Paul (played by Chalamet) slowly embraces the false prophecies his mother and the Benet Jesuit have planted among the Fremen people, even if he was reluctant at first because of the death and destruction he knows it will bring. The pacing is well done (obviously easier to do in a film of this length) as there are plenty of victories, losses, tragedies, and revelations that guide Paul down this irreversible path. Because the first Dune book was written 60 years ago and because Paul’s story itself takes about 3 books to fully tell, I’ll make what may be an unpopular opinion in 2024: Paul Atreides is one of the most fascinating protagonists written in fiction. Period. He is no hero. Not by a long shot.

After the first film released, I know several people were just out on it because it looked like yet again another white savior leading the Brown folks to the promised land. And because the film only adapts the first half (if that) of the book, I don’t think that was a completely wrong assumption to make. But Paul is not a white savior. He’s actually the opposite, he’s a harbinger of doom. Evil is perhaps to flat a term to assign to him, but I think you can make a great case that for the early parts of the fiction, Paul is a villain opposing greater villains. Dune is about many things, but one was about the cautioning towards the grips of fanatic religious fervor and the danger of charismatic leaders. Paul being an outsider to these people and using their yearning of hope against them to help accomplish his goal of revenge are not supposed to make you root for Paul. And for those that checked out of the first film, I really hope you see the sequel because that specific vision becomes much more clear and on display.

Admittedly, while the performances are all good, defaulting as great, the progression of the supporting characters is a bit more up and down for me. Zendaya as Chani is good, mostly, though the expansion of her character for the movie seems to be driven more by it being Zendaya in the role needing a foil to Paul as the fanaticism grows. I think many of the character missteps in the film are often to fill the void of an important character not being there (compared to the books), but asking Chani to be the love interest, the guide companion to Paul, the heart of the Fremen people and ultimately the foil and victim to Paul’s endgame machinations are just a bit too much to pack into one character. Especially for a character that didn’t do 20% of that in the book.

In a different way, Lady Jessica takes on a more nefarious role as the lead propagandist for Paul’s accension to Fremen Messiah. Jessica is already a polarizing figure, by design, so to see her only role in the film to be the carnival barker for Paul, even when he tells her how tragic this path will be, was a little disappointing. Plus, they got her using the voice on AYEBODY, like once per her 2 minutes of screen time, and it got to be a bit much.

The other incredible, scene stealing performance belonged to Austin Butler as the absolutely psychotic Feyd-Rautha. He is essentially the mirror of Paul if he were raised in a brutal and homicidal environment that had no love or empathy in the social charter. Your boy really exorcised them Elvis demons. He is impossible not to gawk at on screen, and I often found myself thinking, ‘the most terrible thing possible that a character can do, he will absolutely do it before this scene is over.’

The very big omission from the film that was present in the book is Paul’s little sister Alia. In the book, she is already born and little more than a toddler by the book’s end. BUT because of Lady Jessica drinking the water of life while pregnant, that toddler Alia contains all the knowledge of her ancestors and is basically Reverend Mother in a three year-old’s body. For the film however, Alia is still in utero. While she is still a character, technically, talking to Lady Jessica and being involved in the plotting, she still doesn’t have the impact she had in the books. That puts pressure on characters like Jessica and even Chani in some respects to be either opposing forces to Paul or help set Paul higher on the overall morality scale of the Dune characters. Alia, via the books is just as cunning, but even more brutal and pragmatic than her brother, which is hinted at in the movie, but will most likely be explored fully in Dune: Messiah.

As a whole, the performances and plotting of the characters never relents and almost everything has a good logic system behind it. Only with Chani did I not always have a clear vision of what they wanted or have that feeling in movies where people do things because they haven’t had some basic conversations that would help them make better decisions.

Dune: Part Two is a movie that feels like the culmination of everything that can make a big epic story like this great on the big screen. It is one of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever seen whether during the iconic action sequences or the unnerving rituals of the varying groups on the planet. The performances range from amazing to adequate, the latter never truly taking away from the spectacle we are witnessing. I have to imagine that Dune: Messiah will be the last film and if its done as well as Part Two was, gives it a chance at being one of the best sci-fi trilogies every made.

[You don’t want the fourth book, Children of Dune, y’all. I’m trying to warn you. I love Dune…but you don’t want that shit, b.]

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  • William is the Editor-In-Chief, leader of the Black Knights and father of the Avatar. With Korra's attitude, not the other one.

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  • carrie

    “You don’t want the fourth book, Children of Dune, y’all. I’m trying to warn you. I love Dune…but you don’t want that shit, b.” Is the most factual thing you will read on the internet today. Horrendous.

    Great review. I hate going to theaters and I want to go back just to see the visuals again. It was beautifully shot.

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