DUNE, Pt 2.: A Solid Continuation of a Sci-Fi Epic [SPOILERS] - Review

Adapted from Random Reaction Super Show #9, originally released March 7, 2024.

Since I declared Dune, Pt. 1 to be the greatest speculative fiction film in years upon its release in 2021, it should come as no surprise that I rushed out to see its sequel opening weekend. While my good friend Zack Farnham and I discussed the film at length on the Words Like That podcast as soon as we left the theater, my short verdict is: 

Dune, Part. 2 is good. In fact, it's very good. But it's not as good as Part 1.

A longer verdict:

We'll start with acting. 

The cast is stacked, and the picture is filled with excellent performances. The biggest standout for me is Javier Bardem as Stilgar. When I see Bardem in a film, he's always playing a completely different character than last time I saw him. Yet he sells the performance every time. The audience does not doubt for a moment that he is that character. His Stilgar portrayal is no exception.

The second best performance of the flick comes from Rebecca Ferguson. Without getting too much into spoiler territory here, an event occurs early in the film that radically alters Ferguson's character, forcing the actress to essentially play two different different people in the film. And she nails them both.

Timothée Chalamet is once again excellent as Paul. Zendaya, whose Chani we barely saw in Pt. 1, is also excellent. In fact, it's really her movie. Even when Paul takes centerstage, we see him through Chani's eyes. An interesting narrative choice that, from my understanding, deviates from the book.

Austin Butler, who I loved in Elvis (although I didn't care for the film), is stellar as the sociopathic villain Feyd.
Stellan Skarsgard is equally terrific while reprising his albino Jabba the Hutt-esque role as the House Harkonen patriarch. (Yes, I know Dune the novel predates Star Wars.)

Surprisingly, however, some of the film's “heavy hitters” disappoint.

Of the returning cast, Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck and Dave Bautista as Glossu Rabban fall the flattest. I'm not sure if it's the writing or Brolin's delivery, but Halleck speaks several lines throughout the picture that are clearly supposed to illicit a strong response from the audience, but instead, they come off corny. Meanwhile, it's hard for me to see Dave Bautista as anyone other than Drax. (At one point in the film, Rabban becomes drunk and violent. I leaned over to Zack and said, “Drax already did this once in the first Guardians.” Has he learned nothing?)

Lea Seydoux has little more than a glorified cameo, and, unless the plot point returns in the next film, her character could've been cut completely.

The wonderful Florence Pugh, who I have repeatedly said is one of the (if not the) best actress of her generation working today, is given little to do with the vital role of the Emperor's daughter. Her performance is fine, but the character is subdued and not much to work with. Perhaps this will change in Messiah.

I never thought I'd say this, but the worst casting choice by far is Christopher Walken. I adore Walken, and I have seen him perform excellently in serious roles. But in this film, he's just “Christopher Walken in Dune and not the big, bad, formidable Emperor he's supposed to be playing. (As I joked on the podcast, I kept waiting for him to say, “I've got a fever, and the only prescription is…more spice!”) Again, I love Walken, but another actor of his generation and caliber should've been cast.

The directing and cinematography are incredible.

Denis Villeneuve continues to prove he's one of the best directors of the modern era, and Greig Fraser, of Zero Dark Thirty fame, continues to amass an impressive filmography. Unlike the David Lean-esque wide shots that permeated Part 1, Villeneuve seems to opt for closer camera work here, delivering a more intimate picture in the process. 

The introduction of the villainous Feyd is presented with stunning black and white effect, achieved through infrared cameras. In one of many riveting sequences that demand to be seen on the big screen, Paul rides a sandworm. While much of the sequence was spoiled in the trailer, my pre-exposure to the scene did not detract one ounce from experiencing its full form on the big screen, as my slacked-agape jaw attested.

Playing around with a bevy of religious themes, the story carries thematic depth galore. But I'm not sure how the audience is supposed to respond.

The idea of the reluctant Chosen One finally embracing his destiny and going full Michael Corleone brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. But, as the audience watches the story unfold through the eyes of Chani, who is decidedly anti-messiah (another deviation from the novel, I'm told), we're left wondering if we should be cheering Paul's victory. Regardless, the ambiguity makes for a compelling hook into Dune: Messiah, which I infer is going to definitively answer the religious questions Parts 1 & 2 raised.

The weak points:

Beyond some of the acting mentioned above, the movie contains a few more weak elements. While the third act is just as good, if not better, than anything in the first movie, the first and second acts are not.

Even though Act 1 is faster-paced and more action-packed than the first half of Pt. 1, it's also less engaging. I found myself caring less about the story or characters than I did in the first movie, even though I know both the characters and the story better now than I did going into Part 1

Act II slowed down even more, and I found myself even less engaged, even though Act II was dedicated to the introduction of Austin Butler’s villain, who, again, was excellent and introduced by the entrancing infrared scene. But even that sequence ran too long. In fact, it felt as though virtually every sequence in the first two acts could’ve been trimmed slightly for pacing and the film would've been tighter yet just as coherent.

Still, at other points, large jumps in time and space occurred without visual cues that such leaps were upcoming. While this isn't a problem for us savvy viewers who are following the movie, even for the engaged, it takes a moment to realize what’s happened. Viewers are slightly jarred and taken out of the movie for a moment as we try to piece together exactly what transpired off screen. I think, on occasion, just a couple of short “bridge” shots to cue the audience that we’re about to make a jump would've prevented such a jarring change of pace and break in flow.

While failing to reach the heights of its predecessor, overall, Dune, Pt. 2 is solid follow-up. I’m rating it 8/10 at the time of this piece, but the more I think about it, the chances increase that I might bump that up to a 9. If I had the time, I would go see the film again in theaters, and for fans of the first one, I highly recommend at least one cinema viewing. 

Rating: 8/10

Cole Powell is an award-winning singer/songwriter and Z-list YouTuber and podcast host. Armed with degrees in computer technology and liberal arts and sciences, Powell seeks to pontificate his pitiful opinions to the masses through any means the internet allows.

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