Paul Atreides unites with Chani and the Fremen while seeking revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family.

Chuck says:

There’s no lack of ambition where Denis Villeneuve’s epic adaptation of “Dune” is concerned.  Instead of shrinking from the task of bringing a complete-as-possible version of Frank Herbert’s complex sci-fi epic to the screen, he rises to the task again and again, not only in his visual approach but in the way he tackles the dense, multi-layered narrative.  More “Lawrence of Arabia,” than “Star Wars,” “Part Two’s” examination of its worlds’ politics, economies, and religions are real-world reflections of a myriad of issues we continue to, and will always, struggle with.  Though it sags after the 90-minute mark, it’s unavoidable as further exposition is needed to set up the rousing third act finale.  Villeneuve’s production is a grand and convincing argument that films – at least of this sort- are required viewing in a theater setting, though even the vast IMAX screens upon which it will be shown will strain to contain this epic vision.

You would be well-advised to watch the previous installment as this volume wastes little time picking up the narrative. Paul (Timothee Chalamet) and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) have been taken in by the Fremen, the native people of the planet Arrakis, after escaping an assassination attempt by the Harkonnen. Their presence is welcomed by some, who have come to see Paul as the messiah they’ve been waiting for, while others see them as outsiders, intent on revealing their secrets.

Meanwhile – and there are quite a few meanwhiles – Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), displeased with the way his secret plot to take out the Atreides family has progressed and the fact that his lackey Rabban (Dave Bautista) has failed to raise the harvesting of Arrakis’ precious resource Spice, has put his nephew Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) in charge. This psychopath is intent on not simply pleasing his uncle but killing Paul as an act to put a definitive stamp on his family’s violent, fear-inducing reputation.

However, before this confrontation can take place, determining whether Paul is in fact the chosen one takes up the bulk of the narrative. Taking out massive spice harvesters with a guerilla band of Fremen, he quickly builds a reputation as a fierce, intelligent warrior, his love, Chani (Zendaya) constantly by his side. Stigler (Javier Bardem), the leader of a religious sect within the culture is convinced he is their messiah. Others are more skeptical.

One of the prevalent themes in the film is cultural appropriation, what with Paul marshalling the forces of a culture alien to his in order to exact revenge for his father’s death.  Perhaps even more egregious are Jessica’s actions, as the member of the Bene Gesserit assumes the role of the Fremen’s Reverand Mother, given and responsible for protecting the memories of their people. That they would cede such power to these two outsiders is a gamble that will ultimately have dire repercussions.

The conflict that arises among the Fremen births a moral civil war as religious sects form, fundamentalists and zealots each interpreting Paul’s actions differently in order to support their respective doctrines. The dangers of religion when used to further political gains is one of Herbert’s main themes and serves as the primary catalyst where characters’ motivations and actions are concerned.  This, as well as the film’s examination of the corrupt nature of governments, the vagaries of imperialism, the abuse of the environment for financial gain and the corrupting nature of power make for a dense and rewarding narrative, elevating this saga above “space opera” status.

Those who complained about part one’s languid world building will be pleased by the pace Villeneuve adopts here. The first 90 minutes playout with a sense of urgency, the viewer can’t help but be swept away by. The series of attacks the Freman conduct are genuinely exciting while the politics machinations undertaken by Reverand Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) point to the complexity of Herbert’s plotting, all of which ultimately insnares the Emperor (Christopher Walken) and his daughter, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), who will play a key role in the final segment of Villeneuve’s planned trilogy.

It comes as no surprise that the veteran cast brings the proper conviction to their roles and are uniformly good. Of course, Chalamet is the key and while he isn’t cut from the traditional action hero cloth, the director’s casting of him is starting to make sense.  His somewhat slight physical appearance effectively underscores his character’s inability to control the circumstances he has set in motion. Though Paul does all he can to not fulfill the visions, which foretell that his rise to power will cause the death of millions, these events are beyond him. His lack of control over his fate is inescapable; that he is allowing the power he is attaining to corrupt him is the tragedy of the story and a scene in which the character glories in the control he has over his adopted tribe gives Chalamet the opportunity to show he’s capable of much more than brooding. Here’s hoping the third segment of the story will be produced in order to give the actor the opportunity to stretch himself further as Paul is elevated politically and is corrupted morally.

Location shooting in Abu Dhabi and Jordan ground the movie, giving the entire production a sense of place and wonder that no amount of digital wizardry could hope to duplicate. As such, it’s reminiscent of the sort of grand filmmaking that has regrettably gone out of style, comparisons to its most obvious antecedent, “Lawrence of Arabia,” appropriate due to its visual grandeur, as well as its conflicted hero and complex narrative. Coupled with bracing action sequences and striking characters, “Dune: Part Two” is an impressive achievement, a film that reminds us of the power of the cinema and the necessity of being overwhelmed by productions of its sort in a theater setting.

3.5 Stars

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