Unbelievable! ‘Dune: Part Two’ Takes Sci-Fi to New Heights – A Dark, Deepening Masterpiece!

It’s a bold move to kick off the continuation of your long-awaited sci-fi saga from the perspective of an unborn child, but “Dune: Part Two” does exactly that, following a brief introduction. The floating fetus, we learn, communicates with its mother and brother not through the usual baby kicks, but through fully formed telepathic sentences about interstellar strategy and insurgency. The unborn child is Alia, and her brother, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), has a message for her: “Sister, our father is gone,” he declares, sounding less like a rising champion and more like a gloomy teenager craving comfort.

There’s a certain eerie majesty to these scenes featuring the cosmically aware fetus, which aligns with the general tone of Frank Herbert’s groundbreaking 1965 novel, a work that was ahead of its time. Despite its foundation in established mythologies, the book resonated with a new generation of young readers seeking mind-expanding substances (or “spice” as the book refers to it), heightened consciousness, and environmental consciousness. Over the decades, “Dune” has attracted ambitious filmmakers like David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky, who dared to adapt its challenging narrative.

Never would I have grouped the spectacle-focused French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve with such visionary creators—and I still don’t. However, he understands something about “Dune” that those beloved creators didn’t, a realization that makes the second half of his monumental and often awe-inspiring adaptation an instant genre classic. (The cognizant unborn Alia is Villeneuve’s own addition, a deviation from Herbert’s original.) He dazzles us with grand-scale action—the work of a legion of visual effects professionals—only to then challenge us, as he did with 2016’s “Arrival,” to decipher and connect the pieces. His sequel immerses us not only in the novel’s prophetic narratives but also in spiritual ambiguity, cultural clashes, and skepticism, as it should. In an impressive feat, Villeneuve has crafted a “Dune” that is relevant today—and will be tomorrow.

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If the first film prioritized atmosphere over plot development (an impressive accomplishment given the challenges posed by the pandemic), it did set the narrative wheels in motion, which we rejoin mid-journey. Rebecca Ferguson’s pregnant Lady Jessica and Chalamet’s Paul are the sole survivors of House Atreides, their family and forces recently annihilated in a surprise attack on Arrakis, the harsh desert planet where the valuable spice is extracted. Being pursued by armored, faceless soldiers capable of scaling cliffs is terrifying enough, but Jessica and Paul also find themselves barely tolerated by the indigenous Fremen, a blue-eyed population who view them no differently than any other foreign invader.

Their arrival is further complicated by an old, contentious prophecy, a prediction of the emergence of a transformative warrior, the Voice From the Outer World. Almost instantly, themes of colonialism and imposed mysticism heighten Villeneuve’s central performances in ways the first film only hinted at. Chalamet’s delicate features become more intense as Paul strives to earn the respect his mother, the Bene Gesserit priestess Jessica, would rather achieve through persuasion of the skeptics. (Ferguson, bearing facial tattoos for much of the film, exudes a captivating menace.)

Two intricate supporting roles enhance the mother-son survival narrative: Zendaya’s wary Fremen soldier Chani, who falls for Paul despite her reservations; and a fervently devout Javier Bardem, who wholeheartedly embraces the prophecy with a warm paternal energy. The film features massive sandworms to be ridden and surfed like ocean waves, and vials of blue substance to be consumed for their enlightening properties, but “Dune: Part Two” remains firmly focused on the concept of authenticity. Throughout, the script (by Villeneuve and returning co-writer Jon Spaihts) infuses Herbert’s Arabian-inspired setting with a counterbalancing critique. Is Paul, their “desert mouse,” a mere pretender?

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As Paul learns to destroy spice extractors and lead attacks, his fair skin concealed by dark goggles and wraps, we’re left to ponder our reaction to this colossal portrayal of occupation and cultural appropriation. This provocative question will undoubtedly be thrown at “Dune: Part Two,” just as it occasionally is at 1962’s epic “Lawrence of Arabia,” a film that influenced Herbert. The response will differ among viewers, but in my view, Villeneuve navigates what could have been a sensitive issue with a deliberate, moment-by-moment sense of fatalism, Chalamet stirring his character’s ascent with hints of anger, guilt, misery, and impostor syndrome. Hans Zimmer’s drone-heavy score never strikes a triumphant note, contributing greatly to the film’s delicate balance.

Then, the film undergoes a dramatic shift, transitioning to the sour-cream palette of Giedi Prime, an excessively industrialized nightmare lit by a “black sun” where a future baron poses a celestial threat to Paul’s celestial birthright. (Bravely, cinematographer Greig Fraser incorporates an entirely separate film shot in silvery black and white.) Austin Butler’s dedication to “Elvis” was legendary, but his chilling portrayal of Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen may be equally impressive: a pale, hairless beast prone to loud outbursts and sinister desires. These scenes—futuristic fascist rallies and gladiatorial killings—elevate the entirety of “Dune” to a level of grave importance. You’re drawn into the inevitable climax.

There are still aspects of Herbert’s epic that even a considerate filmmaker like Villeneuve can’t resolve. The story features one too many royal princesses—here played by Florence Pugh in a role that’s nearly as thankless as the one David Lynch assigned to Virginia Madsen. She can’t be the ultimate reward of such a significant conflict. And the notion of a religious war hinging on the last-minute rediscovery of “family atomics” feels somewhat outdated, even if it is orchestrated by a scruffy yet likable figure like Josh Brolin.

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But have you ever seen a movie that so heavily relies on the trembling chin of a single actor? Zendaya grapples with the implications of her Paul turned fierce, vengeful, and overtly political. Chalamet stamps his foot and the camera trembles.

“Dune: Part Two” is not so much a victory for freedom as the commencement of something far more pessimistic, the potential for an entire cosmos to burst into flames. Villeneuve has successfully taken one of the biggest risks in recent Hollywood history, delivering a two-part epic filled with literary subtlety, timely relevance, and perhaps even the hint of further films. Like the speaking fetus in the womb, it foretells more than we might realize.

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