Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya return for Denis Villeneuve’s world-beating sci-fi sequel

Dune: Part Two

Source: Warner Bros

‘Dune: Part Two’

Dir: Denis Villeneuve. US. 2024. 166mins

In the three years since Denis Villeneuve immersed audiences in Frank Herbert’s world, few Hollywood blockbusters have come close to matching Dune: Part One’s epic scope, technical bravura or seriousness of purpose. Part Two picks up where the first instalment left off, literally and figuratively, delivering another stunning set of gorgeous visuals and exceptional action sequences.

 A franchise that is galaxies removed from standard studio fare in its ambition and confidence

Following Timothee Chalamet’s fledgling leader Paul Atreides as he prepares to battle the evil Harkonnen who wiped out his people in the first chapter, this sequel may not quite reach its predecessor’s heights, but this remains a franchise that is galaxies removed from standard studio fare in its ambition and confidence.

Warner Bros. unveils Part Two on March 1 in the UK and US, hoping to eclipse Dune’s $404 million worldwide gross – a seemingly achievable goal considering the 2021 picture came out when Covid was still severely impacting theatres. Initially scheduled for a fall 2023 release before the writers and actors strikes precipitated a need to move the film to the spring, this star-studded sequel will benefit from rave reviews, not to mention a marketplace without many must-see pictures. Part Two’s suitability for IMAX screens will only further boost commercial prospects.

Teaming up with Arrakis’ desert-dwelling people the Fremen, the enigmatic warrior Chani (Zendaya), Paul Atreides (Chalamet) and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) vow vengeance against Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), the monstrous head of House Harkonnen responsible for the death of Paul’s beloved father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac, seen in the previous instalment). Vladimir recruits his vicious nephew Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) to kill Paul and ensure that Arrakis’ invaluable spice reserves are secured.

Part Two matches the high bar set by the original film, which won six Oscars and five Bafta awards in technical categories. Greig Fraser’s cinematography and Patrice Vermette’s production design conspire to create an otherworldly environment populated by vast deserts, spartan coliseums, inventive spaceships and spectacular sunsets. But, remarkably, the meticulous care that Villeneuve brings to every visual detail never leads to cluttered frames — rather, this sequel is just as strikingly spare, with the battle scenes always clearly presented and the hand-to-hand fight sequences intimate and intense. So much of modern filmmaking obsesses over world-building, but Villeneuve and his team’s imagination clobbers that of their competitors.

Several new cast members join Part Two, including Lea Seydoux as a member of the powerful Bene Gesserit, Christopher Walken as the ageing emperor, and Florence Pugh playing his loyal, protective daughter. But the most commanding new presence is Butler, whose Feyd-Rautha is rightly described as psychotic. A brutal, sadistic enforcer who relishes tormenting his adversaries, Feyd-Rautha sneers and prowls as he stalks his prey, allowing Butler to exude a disturbingly coiled menace. Eventually, this villain squares off with Paul in a third-act showdown that lives up to its billing, the choreography of their gripping knife fight both realistic and dazzling. 

In this new chapter, Paul will fulfil his destiny as the chosen one meant to bring down the forces of evil — a mighty task for any actor, and one that Chalamet mostly pulls off. With his slight frame and youthful face, he intentionally lacks the strapping presence and overt machismo that audiences have come to associate with their action heroes. (Kyle MacLachlan, who played the role in David Lynch’s 1984 Dune, was similarly wiry and boyish.) But Chalamet harnesses his quiet presence and soulful expressions to suggest a leader who finds his calling out there in the desert, more than capably portraying Paul’s transformation into a formidable fighter.

Villeneuve’s visionary approach to Herbert’s classic (and believed to be unfilmable) sci-fi novel is a testament to the director’s faith that embracing the story’s grandeur and eternal themes could result in arresting cinema. To be sure, Part Two shares with the first film a grave solemnity in which questions of faith, power and fate are elevated to the level of the mythic, although this sequel is not as nimble at locating the emotional nuance in this epic struggle, occasionally sacrificing the quiet character moment for the sake of the next muscular set piece. In addition, as breathtaking as Part Two looks, it is forced to compete with Part One, which was inherently more novel and groundbreaking because it came first.

But, ultimately, such quibbles are crushed by the sheer audacity of Villeneuve’s execution. As Hans Zimmer’s propulsive score juices the drama and thrill of Paul’s quest, Part Two achieves the sort of big-screen momentousness that is too rarely dared in contemporary cinema. Anyone swept away by the 2021 film will hunger to return for a second helping — and be richly rewarded. 

Production company: Legendary Pictures

Worldwide distribution: Warner Bros. Pictures

Producers: Mary Parent, Cale Boyter, Denis Villeneuve, Tanya Lapointe, Patrick McCormick 

Screenplay: Denis Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts, based on the novel Dune by Frank Herbert

Cinematography: Greig Fraser

Production design: Patrice Vermette

Editing: Joe Walker

Music: Hans Zimmer

Main cast: Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, Lea Seydoux, Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, Javier Bardem