Review: Villeneuve fulfills epic promise with ‘Dune: Part Two’

Timothée Chalamet in Dune: Part Two (Warner Media)

There are some sequels that surpass the original film that spawned them.

In fact, two of my very favorite movies are sequels.

I think James Whale topped his effort with 1931’s “Frankenstein” in every way with 1935’s “The Bride of Frankenstein.” Director Irvin Kershner delivered a more compelling movie with 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back” than George Lucas did with “Star Wars” in 1977. Certainly opinions vary.

There are select other examples of sequels surpassing the original, but more often than not it’s difficult for a director to plow familiar ground a second time with as much magic as the first time.

I’m excited to report director Denis Villeneuve accomplished the task with his latest effort “Dune: Part Two,” the second part of his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel.

The film is a stellar example of what can be accomplished by a filmmaker and his crew. The film is truly epic in story and scope, and along with “Dune,” the two parts would fit nicely on a shelf next to cinematic landmarks like “Gone With the Wind,” “Ben-Hur,” “Spartacus,” Doctor Zhivago” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Herbert was likely inspired by such films and their source material while writing his science-fiction fantasy that Villeneuve lovingly but not slavishly recreated in his screenplay with Jon Spaihts. There are some differences — some pivotal —from the novel in the movie.

The two-hour and forty-eight minute film is expertly paced, building steam as the drama rises as exiled duke Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) leads a rebellion of the Fremen of the planet Arrakis against the conquering Harkonnen empire, despite the fact his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is a Harkonnen. The first film details how Paul’s father was betrayed, overthrown, and killed by the Harkonnen, and how Paul and his mother fled and later connected with the Fremen.

While living with the Freman, Paul develops a relationship with Chani (Zendaya) and slowly but surely begins to fulfill ancient prophecies of a messianic figure who is predicted to rise to lead the Fremen to victory over their oppressors.

Paul and his mother are aware of the prophecies, and both have a form of precognition that is enhanced by partaking of the “Water of Life,” a blue fluid, drained from adolescent sand worms. The fluid is poison to men, except for the messiah.

Paul does not want to lead the Freman south because it would lead to a direct conflict with his uncle and cousin’s forces, but more importantly, he has had visions of the destruction and blood shed that will ultimately be on his hands if he does.

Villeneuve does an expert job of bringing Herbert’s cautionary novel to the screen.

The film is a technical marvel with special effects so convincing and a story so engrossing that I only thought about how he, master cinematographer Greig Fraser, and editor Joe Walker collaborated to produce such a stunning work after I finished watching the movie.

Likewise, Hans Zimmer’s searing score only enhances the film’s ambiance rather than drowning it out or weighing it down.

All the individual pieces of the film blend together so seamlessly that the viewer is enveloped by the sand-swept epic of power, war, and destiny.

The performances by the entire cast just fit together so well. None are too showy or too understated.

Chalamet is solid as ever, but Zendaya does so much of the emotional work in he film. Her eyes and facial expressions say so much without her actually saying a word. How Paula and Chani’s love story plays out is devastating as desire and duty just aren’t meant to commingle.

Zendaya brings the heart and fire to the film along with Javier Bardem as Stilgar the leader of the Freman and Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, a mentor to Paul.

Austin Butler, with all his head and facial hair shorn including his eyebrows, brings power, intensity, and a bit of insanity to his ole as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen.

He and Chalamet’s character square off in duel of long knives that vaults into the top 10 of the greatest sword/knife battles in cinematic history.

Chalamet certainly benefits from all the outstanding performances that surround him in this film, but his choice to mostly play Paul low key only makes his big scenes more dynamic as he cuts loose.

The film’s deliberate pacing and overall length could be off-putting to some, but my patience never felt strained at any point.

I did not have the chance to rewatch “Dune” as I had intended to do before seeing the sequel. I wish I had because “Dune: Part Two” does not go to great lengths to remind you of what happened previously. However, other than for a split second in the opening battle, I never was confused about where the story was headed.

I don’t want to hail the film as a masterpiece before I view it for a second time, but I honestly have no gripes with the movie.

Grade: A

New in Local Theaters – March 1, 2024

  • Dune: Part Two (PG-13) 2 hrs. 45 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight

Classic Corner – Terminator 2: Judgment Day

If “Dune: Part Two” has you stoked for even more science-fiction, James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” might be a great movie to revisit.

It might not have the classical sweep and grandeur of director Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” films, but the the movie delivers sci-fi action like no other. It might not be exactly high brow, but it certainly packs an entertaining punch, even 33 years later.

The film remains a solid story, and the action is again outstanding. While its strength may have been been diluted due to the familiarity of the property and the proliferation of sequels, taken on its own, the movie remains immensely entertaining.

In fact, it’s hard to think of a better, more accessible film that deals with time travel and a possible dystopian future.

Some prefer the grit of the 1984 original “The Terminator,” and it’s hard to argue with them. It’s a great little sci-fi movie.

However, the sequel is a magnificent spectacle with scope really only matched by the Dune, Star Wars, and Star Trek franchises. While everyone has their particular preferences, with two fine performances at by Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the titular cyborg a the heart of the film, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” stands proudly among the best science-fiction films ever produced.

Hamilton defined the role of a female action hero for the 1990s and beyond, transforming the character of Sarah Connor from a damsel in distress in the first film into warrior with the goal of protecting her son John Connor (Edward Furlong) so he can grow into the resistance leader he’s intended to be.

While doing that, she’s just as dead set on thwarting Skynet’s artificial intelligence from initiating a nuclear holocaust that allows the machines to wrestle away control of the future from humans.

That’s a plot that’s even more relevant today than in 1991.

Cameron and Schwarzenegger made the actor’s stiff, emotionless delivery work to great effect in the original movie.

However, with seven years of acting experience under his belt, Arnie comes off just as brutal in the sequel, but this time, he offers a subtly touching performance as the T-800 cyborg sent from the future to protect young John Connor, rather than trying to prevent him from being born like in the original film.

That was a tremendous twist which Cameron played perfectly in his story.

Schwarzenegger’s performance rests on a pedestal next to Boris Karloff‘s as the Frankenstein’s monster as one of the best performances as a monster/cyborg with a heart.

Arnie is effective, even touching acting as Connor’s shield and protector. In his first acting role, Furlong has enough natural swagger to make the relationship work.

Robert Patrick lacks Schwarzenegger’s innate charisma and physical presence, but as the T-1000 assassin sent back in time to off the Connors, he makes a formidable liquid-metal adversary, thanks to CGI effects that still hold up.