‘Dune’ is a spectacular, procedural exercise, but ‘Dune: Part Two’ burns more calories

“Dune: Part Two” (2024) – “It’s been a while since you’ve had one of those nightmares,” Chani (Zendaya) says and asks, “Tell me, what was it about?”

“It’s only fragments.  Nothing’s clear,” Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) replies.

This exchange opens Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Dune: Part Two, Official Trailer 3”, and director/co-writer Denis Villeneuve’s dream project – his science fiction cinematic vision adapted from Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel – continues in theatres on Feb. 29, 2024, more than a while since his first film’s release on Oct. 22, 2021. 

Well, it’s only been two years, four months, and seven days, but it’s been an eternity for diehard fans. 

“Dune: Part Two” – listed with a 166-minute runtime but ended after 156, according to this critic’s watch – offers a deliberately leisure pace for “Dune” fanatics, “Dune” novices, and everyone in between to absorb the grandeur and pageantry of a story between good and evil, oppressors and underdogs, and choice versus fate, all on a faraway desert planet called Arrakis in the year 10191. 

Villeneuve’s follow-up follows right after the events of his 2021 predecessor.  He leans into the regal formalities of Paul’s journey toward (possibly) transforming into a messiah for the Fremen, desert dwellers who spend their lives fighting the Harkonnen, a chalky-white race, hell-bent on military might and controlling spice production on the planet.

Hence, the quote that opens the film: “Power over spice is power over all.”

Paul copes with the fallout of slaying Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun) – at the end of the first film – and the Fremen are divided, between North and South, about spiritual beliefs and whether Mr. Atreides is the “chosen one,” a title that he doesn’t readily accept. 

He wishes to fight for his fallen house and late father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), alongside the Fremen, honor and respect his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and discover a hopeful romance with Chani. 

Meanwhile, the grotesque Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) and the distant Emperor (Christopher Walken) push back against the Fremen (also referred to as “rats”) with force through the Harkonnen and Imperial troops, assemblies of war machines called ornithopters that look like a steampunk collaboration of helicopters and dragonflies, and the Baron’s sicko nephew, a creep with an utterly punchable face, Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler). 

For those who loved “Dune” (2021), this film – in the words of Jerry Maguire – will most likely “complete (you),” as Denis bathes in the visual majesty of Arrakis, a place chock-full of dunes and moons.  According to IMDb, photography in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates help provide the former. 

If you didn’t care for the first film, the second falls into similar patterns of pacing and procedures.  “Dune” is a spectacular, procedural exercise, but “Dune: Part Two” burns more calories, just enough for me to recommend it.

Granted, it’s been over two years since this critic has watched the first picture, but “Part Two” seems to devote more screentime to action set pieces, including the curious floating abilities of Harkonnen soldiers’ suits.  The ornithopter assault looks straight out of the Vietnam War, and the film includes moments of sabotage of the massive spice drilling apparatuses, a few sandworm surfing escapades, and a third-act collision between imperial and Harkonnen forces versus Fremen battalions. 

However, the final battle feels truncated and ends too abruptly.

From a purely cinematic perspective, Villeneuve and cinematographer Greig Fraser transport us – with Oscar-caliber sweat – outside our comfortable theatre seats and into a foreign, remote, and mesmerizing abyss.  Machines and sporadic traces of life bid for survival in an excessively arid climate while a perpetual power struggle of wills, 400-meter sandworms, cannons, swords, and laser guns clash under a brutal sun. 

However, “Dune: Part Two” is not filled with physical matches throughout the two-and-a-half-hour-plus runtime.  These aggressive on-screen collisions appear as small mini-events of militaristic majesty between long spells of dry discourse. 

For the pomp and circumstance surrounding the immense scale and scope that both films stride about with pride, Villeneuve and co-writer Jon Spaihts dedicate countless moments of sequestered individual exchanges.   

“Dune: Part Two” is not excessively conversational, but this movie is not the thrill-a-minute “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) either, and the main players seem to repeat the same basic ideas while standing or sitting around and pondering what it all means on piles of sand and rocky buttes or inside antiseptic, metallic conference rooms. 

For instance, The Baron frequently complains about his spice production problems, and Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista) repeatedly takes the verbal brunt of the operation’s shortcomings.  Jessica has a raging battle with drinking worm urine, and Paul’s future is her favorite go-to topic, ad nauseam.  The narrative often cuts to Feyd-Rautha so that he can randomly act like a psychopath for a few minutes at a time.

Still, the leads and the seemingly limitless extras don elaborate, eye-catching textiles of opulent royal intricacies, menacing military armor, and purposely unflattering ragged wrapped rags. 

(For the record, “Dune: Part Two” seems destined for Oscar nominations in visual effects, costume design, and sound.)   

Regarding the actors who wear these decorative costumes, Javier Bardem (who plays Paul’s biggest supporter, Stilgar), Ferguson, and Butler stand out the most. 

Chalamet and Zendaya work fine together, but their initial chemistry during the first hour wanes during the last 90-plus minutes, primarily because the script deviates from Paul and Chani’s loving focus and into mechanical questions about their pragmatic fit with Mr. Atreides’ destiny and additional time in propping up Feyd-Rautha’s bullying tactics. 

Unfortunately, the film wastes Florence Pugh and Walken by barely offering them anything to do as Princess Irulan and the Emperor.  They deliver their lines on a nondescript sound stage for the most part, and audiences might desperately wish for some mass quantities of spicy cowbell that never clang true.

As far as Chalamet playing a messiah, is his performance convincing?  Well, he seems fine enough, and Timothee isn’t accidentally dropping his sword during the most critical moments, so there’s that. 

Speaking of which, if the Emperor, the Harkonnen, and the Fremen have access to guns, why use swords in the first place? 

A few other questions come to mind.

Why didn’t the Baron immediately murder Beast Rabban when spice production initially fell on his watch, especially when the gluttonous leader is incredibly ruthless with everyone else?  Perhaps the Baron is a WWE fan.  Hey, it’s possible.

When did Chani secure an ornithopter?  It must have occurred off-screen.

How does anyone find their way around Arrakis without a compass?

These are fair questions, but here’s one more:  How often do you see someone ride a 400-meter invertebrate like a surfboard?  

What?  Exactly.

Bravo, Mr. Villeneuve.  Bravo.

⭐ ⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐ ⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  Denis Villeneuve

Written by:  Denis Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts, based on Frank Herbert’s novel

Starring:  Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgard, Austin Butler, Dave Bautista, Florence Pugh, and Christopher Walken

Runtime:  156 minutes

Rated: PG-13

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