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Dune: Part Two (2024)::rating::4::rating::4

Holy hell, it’s finally happened:  I’ve warmed up to the Dune franchise.  It hasn’t been an easy road, dear readers.  After all, David Lynch’s ’84 version was the cinematic equivalent of a monkey humping a doorknob.  Frank Herbert’s behemoth novels had always been written off as unfilmable, and after that 80s dreck, I couldn’t have agreed more.  For years, friends would attempt to turn me onto the world of Dune, but I was resolute:  No book that inspired a movie that incoherent and willfully pretentious could ever be that good.  So, when I heard Denis Villeneuve was heading up this reboot, I was still protected by a Teflon sense of skepticism.  Now they’ve really Dune it.

Well, the new Dune arrived, and it tickled my gizzard by being noticeably above average.  And don’t get that twisted:  I still don’t think it’s quite worthy of all the love bites it got from critics and fans.  Those Oscar noms were a bit much, you know? With that said, I was still whelmed enough to nod politely when the final credits rolled.  Good on Villeneuve and his cast of thousands for finally delivering a Dune that doesn’t suck deep-friend donkey dongs.

All that uncommon quality means that I can approach this second helping with more of an open mind.  As such, I can happily report that Dune Deux has all the makings of an enduring classic.  It’s not perfect, mind you.  In fact, some of my complaints about Lynch’s dud persist, if in miniature form.  Still, take this entire review as a thumbs-up that would make Roger Ebert proud.

Of course, everything from this point assumes you’ve done the sand dance for the first installment.  Otherwise, this entire follow-up will feel like sun-drenched gibberish.  This time, Villeneuve pretty much picks up where that movie left us hanging.  Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), are in exile after the destruction of their house.  They find themselves on the planet Arrakis, amongst the Fremen people.  The Fremen are a nomadic warrior clan, with a strong spirituality tied to the desert they call home.  Some of them believe Paul is an enemy spy, while others have tagged him as a potential savior.  Jessica, who belongs to a priestess order known as the Bene Gesserit, actively fans the flames of the latter group.  At the same time (in one of the film’s ickier aspects), she communes with the unborn fetus inside her.

Stilgar (Javier Bardem), the leader of this Fremen tribe, buys into the hype around Paul.  He attempts to convince his people that Paul will deliver them to paradise.  Meanwhile, Chani (Zendaya) falls for Paul, just not the hype around him.  She figures the prophecy is bunk, but there’s still something special about Paul himself.

And she’s not wrong.  The film–and Herbert’s book–pull a strong influence from Lawrence of Arabia by evolving Paul into a conquering hero.  Like Lawrence, Paul builds a reputation by winning battle after battle, and proving he shares their bond with the austere magnificence of the desert.  This parallel gives the film a narrative momentum its predecessor lacked.  Paul’s ascendence into boy-king packs more of a punch, and transforms this sequel into gripping entertainment.  Hey, if the filmmakers (and Herbert) are gonna crib major plot points, at least they do it from a classic.

It also helps the nearly all the major players have settled nicely into their roles.  Chalamet brings fragile charisma to Paul Atreides, who must reconcile the self-doubt and egomania that come with being The Chosen One.  Ferguson also shines as Lady Jessica, whose spiritual title belies the cunning strategist beneath the veil.  Series newcomer Austin Butler brings a lean, jittery psychosis to Feyd-Rautha, the Harkonnen killer dispatched to destroy Paul. Bardem plays Stilgar as a capable man, albeit blinded by his wild-eyed devotion to Paul as Dune’s messiah.  (Stilgar is essentially Morpheus to Paul’s Neo.)  Zendaya (or, you know, Trinity) adds depth to Chani, who loves Paul but fears his destiny.  Chalamet and Zendaya don’t generate a lot of heat as a couple, but whaddya gonna do?

For all its acting strength, this Dune strikes out with two crucial characters:  Christopher Walken’s emperor seems to just stand around passively while bad news is delivered.  (Indeed, Walken’s vibe is about one notch away from a full-on SNL spoof.)  Also, Florence Pugh is wasted as Walken’s daughter, who spends much of the movie recording events we’ve already seen into her diary.  (Never mind that unbelievability that Pugh could ever genetically emerge from Walken.) Maybe they’re saving these two for the inevitable threequel, but I can’t judge a franchise for what it might do later.  As is, Villeneuve takes two charming actors and gives them little to do.

Actually, that brings me to a bone of contention about this whole movie.  For all its grandeur, for all its cool factor, Dune Two is a largely humorless affair.  Everybody exchanges scowls and growls, and occasionally a character will bellow something ominous.  In a story where people drink Windex and ride worms, the filmmakers probably didn’t need to take it quite so seriously.  That dour attitude can make this three-hour epic feel a little bloated and ponderous–especially when it carves out so much time for Chalamet to strut in slow motion.

But those aren’t fatal flaws.  If you enjoyed the first Dune, this one does the same things better.  The special effects are jaw-dropping.  Hans Zimmer’s pulsating score fills almost every scene with dread on an epic scale.  Long ago, I had written off the entire Dune franchise. Finally, Villeneuve’s second installment has proven me wrong.

165 min.  PG-13.  On demand.




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