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‘Dune: Part Two’: A brilliant achievement for science-fiction film

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Courtesy of Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.
Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Zendaya as Chani in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “Dune: Part Two,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

4.5 out of 5.0 stars
Building on an already impressive resume of science-fiction, director Denis Villeneuve continues his epic film adaptation of the first Dune novel with “Dune: Part Two,” the sequel to the 2021 film “Dune,” based on the critically acclaimed novel by Frank Herbert. Releasing into IMAX screenings Feb. 25th and regular theaters March 1, this science-fiction space opera picks up with the story of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his encounter with the people of the desert planet Arrakis. 

Determined to avenge the murder of his father, Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), from the previous movie, Paul partners with Chani (Zendaya) and the rest of her people, including religious leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem), in order to fight back against the increasing oppression over the planet. This evil occupation persists under the thumb of Lord Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgård) and his nephew, Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler).

Beginning right where the audience last left off, Paul journeys across the desert in an effort to escape the Harkonnen empire. His story revolves around his growing identity as a religious figure destined to free the people of Arrakis and bring them to paradise, referred to in the film as the “Lisan al-Gaib.” As Paul takes part in more battles with the Harkonnen empire, led by the Lord Baron, his legend begins to grow, and the prophecy centered around him begins to take form. 

The prophecy threatens to consume him as he begins to see visions of death and destruction brought on by his future actions. Subverting the traditional Hero’s Journey, Paul’s story takes a different turn as he battles with the ethics and the morality of becoming the thing he hates — an all-powerful figure, answering to no one. It’s a fantastic narrative that intertwines a variety of themes, including the influence of religious figures and the power they wield and how fanaticism can reshape the histories and cultures of civilizations overnight. These elements shape a story that’s grand in scale as well as ideas, building the foundation for a compelling saga. 

From a technical standpoint, this film is very much the highest level that any movie can achieve in this day and age. The visual effects, combined with direction and cinematography of Villeneuve, gives the world of Dune a unique, powerful feel that allows it to pop on screen. Along with the main centerpiece of Arrakis, the Harkonnen homeworld of Giedi Prime is unlike anything put to the big screen — a science-fiction world, bathed in monotone colors. It gives the planet a distinct alien look, on top of an ominous feel, that helps to establish why the Harkonnen are as villainous as they are. 

The homeworld of the galactic emperor displays its own distinct qualities as well, being a green, forested world. The design of spaceships and architecture are all representative of how each alien species appear and act in the film, with Harkonnen ships being dark, bulky and sharp while Fremen ships are more light and quick. Every visual set-piece is masterfully done, with no detail or scrutiny left unattended — a true labor of love. 

The performances of the main cast speak to an incredibly dynamic script, with each veteran actor putting in phenomenal work with their material. The standout performance from the movie comes from Chalamet, who’s lead performance takes complete control of the film around the midway point. Filled with religious fervor combined with a desire to do what’s necessary to save the galaxy, Paul gives several speeches that accentuate those feelings to a point. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most powerful performance of the film. Chalamet adds gravitas to each scene, projecting his voice powerfully across incredibly large sets. On top of this, Zendaya’s performance as Chani provides an emotional relatability to the audience, with her simply wanting to do what’s best for her people and for Paul.

Despite the lengthy runtime of two hours and 46 minutes, the film earns every second of it with how much it accomplishes per minute. So much character and world is built within the runtime to the point where the universe and its politics can be grasped by anyone, even those who have no prior knowledge of Dune and its source material. The pace never drags, not even for a second. No scene drags on for too long, nor do they cut too fast. Information is conveyed clearly, despite the depth of the material, and the audience never feels lost among the multitude of character arcs, alien worlds and important terms. This speaks to an incredible level of directorial control that has to be commended.

Facilitated by a sweeping narrative, brilliant cinematography and visuals, and an absolutely star-studded cast, this film fires on every capable cylinder, delivering quite possibly the sci-fi epic of the decade. Among Villeneuve’s repertoire, this film stands as far and away his best work. The return numbers on this sweeping epic could open the doors for a new age of science-fiction film, one that could breathe new life into cinema again. 

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