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Review: ‘Dune: Part Two’ takes a drastically different, yet still divisive, approach

‘Dune: Part Two’ continues the science fiction saga that follows a young duke on his path to lead a rebellion

A scene from 'Dune: Part Two'
A scene from 'Dune: Part Two' courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
A scene from 'Dune: Part Two' courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

‘Dune: Part Two’ continues the science fiction saga that follows a young duke on his path to lead a rebellion and regain his family’s position.

Frank Herbert’s Dune is an award-winning, classic sci-fi saga with so many moving parts, it’s impossible to capture all of the nuances in a standard two-hour film. Thus, it’s been adapted into miniseries and multi-part movies in an attempt to incorporate as much of Herbert’s universe as possible. Some of the details that make it so difficult to portray on screen are the complex political, scientific and social models that compel almost every action in the narrative. So, filmmakers can either get bogged down in trying to explain it all or opt for a high-level overview supplemented by new character arcs. In Dune: Part Two, director Denis Villeneuve chooses the latter.

Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), successfully embedded themselves amongst the Fremen, mostly thanks to Stilgar (Javier Bardem), who believes they could be the manifestation of a long-held prophecy, and Chani (Zendaya), who teaches him the way of her people. As the pair reluctantly accept their roles as messiah and Reverend Mother respectively, the war for the spice and control of Arrakis rages on. Beast Rabban Harkonnen (Dave Bautista) is struggling to maintain the Baron’s (Stellan Skarsgård) support as his ability to harvest the spice is repeatedly frustrated by Fremen attacks led by the newly named, Muad’Dib. So, his uncle redistributes the planet’s control to his other nephew, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler), who has a much colder approach to ending the conflict, which will force Paul’s hand and possibly bring forth the devastating Holy War he’s foreseen in his dreams.

This film is clearly influenced by the 1962 epic adventure drama, Lawrence of Arabia, which told the real-life story of a British soldier that played a significant role in the Arab Revolt. There are scenes in Villeneuve’s movie that strongly resemble those in its predecessor from Paul’s overwhelming reception by the Fremen to him leading them into battle against the occupying House Harkonnen. Moreover, though Herbert wrote the original story in 1965, it’s not surprising to see parallels between the movie and current world conflicts, pitting indigenous peoples against invading forces.

The first installment of this series attempted to establish the various houses and the reasons for tensions between them, losing some viewers as it conveyed the complexities of their relationships and the significance of their conflicts within the big picture. This second part disregards most of the story’s nuances in favour of stunning action sequences that engulf the screen with battles and explosions, and feature the mightiness of the monstrous worms that inhabit the planet. The sound rumbles through the IMAX seats and immerses audiences in the cinematic spectacle. For anyone not familiar with the source material, the movie will seem less confusing and more enjoyable. Conversely, fans will be disappointed by all that’s glossed over, altered or omitted completely.

Yet, the most upsetting change is made to Chani’s character and her relationship with Paul. In Herbert’s book, she’s supportive of Paul’s cause and they openly discuss the hard decisions he will have to make if he continues down this path. In the film, Chani explicitly opposes Paul’s actions and he behaves very uncharacteristically towards her, fostering trust issues between them. While there are many changes to the narrative, including a much briefer timeline that modifies the entire existence of some characters, driving a wedge between Paul and Chani is the most egregious. In their attempt to give Chani more agency and strengthen her character, they lose one of Paul’s foundations and most important confidante.

Villeneuve has mentioned making a third film based on Herbert’s second book, Dune Messiah, but so much that is at the centre of that narrative has been removed from this story, it’s difficult to imagine how the two could be reconciled.

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya and Rebecca Ferguson

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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