Dune: Part Two (2024)

Every version of Dune I have seen up to Dune: Part Two has a problem.  The first part of the book is an introduction of characters, most of those characters (at least the good guys) dying, followed by Paul and Jessica meeting the Fremen and learning how to survive the harsh environment of Arrakis.  Along the way there is a lot of worldbuilding as it takes some time to immerse the reader into a strange semi-feudal society 10000 years in the future that is filled with unfamiliar technology and concepts.  

Once the story gets going and Paul begins fulfilling his destiny is when things get tricky.  Frank Herbert handled it well, from the romance with Chani to Jessica finding her place among the Fremen, down to a conclusion that saw Paul walking a fine line between a leader of a great house and a messiah.  There is plenty of action as things ramp up toward the end, but much of the important action is political, and that works fine on the page.  Not so much on the screen, which is why David Lynch had an army of Fremen weaponizing the Bene Gesserit "Voice" technique and amped up the messianic side of Paul, while the miniseries tried to balance things but fumbled a bit.

Dune always works better in multiple parts as there is just too much to unpack, and the tone changes completely as it heads toward the conclusion.  That is why the miniseries, despite budget limitations, worked better than Lynch's film at telling the story.  It is also something of which Denis Villeneuve is well aware as he didn't even attempt to jam everything into a single film, but rather took the risk of making the first one without any guarantee that a second one would ever see the light of day.  His gamble paid off and, though his vision of the story is much different than Herbert's, they both end up in the same place.

Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) are on the move with Stilgar's (Javier Bardem) group of Fremen.  The trip to their sietch is interrupted by attempts by the Harkonnens to both ensure the Atreides family is no more and to prevent increasing Fremen raids on spice production.  Lord Rabban (Dave Bautista) has been tasked by Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) to bring the northern part of Arrakis under control but is failing.  Paul is having visions warning him that if he goes south at any point that he will be responsible for billions of deaths so, while his status grows along with his relationship with Chani (Zendaya), he is still reluctant to take the steps his mother and Stilgar are urging.

Unsure if Paul is dead Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) is forced to contemplate what to do if he is in fact alive and challenges the rule of her father, Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken).  The Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling) is also concerned about Paul's demise, looking into using Baron Harkonnen's nephew and favorite Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) to continue the lineage to bring forth the Kwizatz Haderach.  Feyd ends up succeeding where Rabban failed, but that success only forces Paul and the rest of the Fremen to head south, leading to a fulfillment of destiny and a new order for the galaxy.  

There is still much going on here but Villeneuve opts to concentrate on Paul's ascendancy and much of the action that goes along with it rather than the political wrangling.  Alia, Paul's unborn sister who is awakened when Jessica drinks the Water of Life and becomes Reverend Mother to the Fremen, is not born during the time covered and thus doesn't play the same role she has in previous adaptations.  Rather, much of the film is focused on Paul and, later, Feyd-Rautha as his ultimate rival.  Villeneuve has already committed to making a third part, Dune: Messiah, so it is possible much of what occurs with the Spacing Guild and the Great Houses at the end of Dune will be covered at the beginning of that film. 

Although purists will be upset and point out that this not what Herbert intended it works better in a visual medium than the approaches made before.  While it may be cheating a bit to get out of a difficult situation by rewriting a fair amount of the story it is something that had to be done as the other approach was tried and fell flat.  By focusing on Paul it made the story more palatable and added the moral ambiguity that his character needs.  He's no longer a Campbellesque hero but, by necessity, a focus for religious fanaticism and what many would consider a terrorist.  

Both visually, and in the flow of the story and the script, Villeneuve has delivered on the promises from Dune.   His alterations also provide a fresh take on the material and allow it to breathe, thus giving hope that his third (and, according to him, last) movie in the series will shine as well.  Dune: Messiah is a short, transitional novel, so it needs all the help it can get to keep the momentum going from the first two films.  So far it seems Villeneuve is up to the challenge. 

Dune: Part Two (2024)
Time: 166 minutes
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgård, Austin Butler
Director: Denis Villeneuve



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