Dune: Part Two review: An epic examination of the books’ subversive ideas

The end of Denis Villeneuve’s first Dune film made it possible to read this retelling of Frank Herbert’s opus as a grim but optimistic open story about a young man who embraces destiny to become a liberator. The film framed Paul Atreides’ wisdom as his most valuable tool, presenting his moral clarity as a sign that he was following a righteous path. As in the book, the intention was for you to see Paul as a complicated but sympathetic figure at the start of his Shakespearean hero’s journey. But Dune: part two exposes what it takes for someone to become a mythical figure and challenges you to understand how deeply bleak this story has always been.

Picking up essentially exactly where Dune ends, Dune: part two delves deeper into the aftermath of the fall of House Atreides and chronicles the ongoing struggle of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) for survival on the desert planet Arrakis. Even with Jessica’s powerful Bene Gesserit mind-sharpening techniques at their disposal, being stranded on Arrakis is tantamount to death among brutal storms and giant sandworms. And after seeing his friends and family slaughtered by the Harkonnens, Paul has every reason to feel an almost unimaginable despair.

But after seeing only glimpses of Chani (Zendaya) in his increasingly prophetic dreams, Paul finally personally fills her with an overwhelming sense of wonder—both at her individual power and at the power she embodies as a member of the Fremen . the only people who know how to survive in the desert landscape of Arrakis. although Dune: part two builds on the first film’s tangled mystery of how Paul is almost certainly the chosen one destined to lead the Fremen to Paradise. The new film uses Chani and her fellow northerners like Shishakli (Souheila Yacoub) to illustrate what the real work of sustaining a revolution looks like.

Villeneuve and cinematographer Greig Fraser once again present Arrakis as a breathtakingly vast, desolate place full of beauty and danger. But Dune: part two uses his time on the planet to more carefully explore how the Fremen view the desert as part of themselves. That idea is woven into the pacing and choreography of almost all of the film’s tense clashes between the soldiers of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) and the Fremen, whose intimate knowledge of the Arrakis landscape makes them unparalleled warriors.

Freemen like Chani and Shishakli see their fight against their oppressors as a battle they must win for themselves, and they find it absurd how much faith southerners like chieftain Stilgar (Javier Bardem) have placed in old myths about a messiah. But in Paul, Stilgar cannot help but see an answer to his people’s prayers for salvation. And when the young prince insists that he wants to serve the Fremen rather than control them as his family once controlled the planet, even Chani is forced to consider whether there might be something special about him.

Especially through the depiction of the women closest to Paul, Dune: part two paints a more detailed picture of how deeply connected this universe’s cultural power systems are, beyond their shared dependence on the spices of Arrakis. Despite being incredibly isolated, there are religious threads that connect the Fremen to the Bene Gesserit in fascinating ways. And while there are some members of the Machiavellian sisterhood who want Paul dead, others, like Emperor Shaddam IV’s daughter (Christopher Walken), Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), are secretly fascinated by his seemingly inevitable rise to prominence within the ranks of the Fremen.

Besides making the story even more complicated, Dune: part two‘S Completing the Bene Gesserit through Irulan and other newcomers like Lady Margot Fenring (Léa Seydoux) provides even more insight into the deep history of the sisterhood and its goals. In the same way that the film highlights how the Fremen have mastered the art of desert survival, it also makes clear that the Bene Gesserit are almost always in their own element, thanks to millennia of carefully planned political manipulation.

This is true for Irulan as she covertly chronicles the events of history at her father’s side, and Margot as Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) sends her on an important mission to the largely colorless homeworld of Harkonnen. But the survival and plans of the Bene Gesserit are most brilliantly personified in Lady Jessica, as she, like her son, is quickly accepted by the Fremen, who see her abilities as yet another sign of Paul’s deity.

By putting Chani and Jessica so strongly in the foreground Dune: part two‘s story and the use of their arcs to add more context to Paul’s transformation into Muad’Dib, Villeneuve and co-writer Jon Spaihts make it almost impossible to misinterpret the film as a simple white savior story. Herbert wrote Dune as a multifaceted critique of that trope, with Paul being the ultimate representation of neo-imperialism’s ability to connect but also destroy entire civilizations, all under the auspices of social or economic progress. Sometimes it was harder to see those concepts at work the first time around Dune because of the way it was meant to draw you into the mystery and newness of Paul’s life on Arrakis. But Part two is much more explicit in its articulation of how dangerous the idea of ​​a Kwisatz Haderach is, and the film takes care to emphasize how many players want to weaponize that concept.

The intentions of both Herbert and Villeneuve cannot be dismissed in reflection Dune: part two‘s presentation of a white prince who becomes a messiah figure to a group of people deliberately coded as Muslim in almost every aspect of their fictional culture. That said, the film is still a piece of entertainment, with real Muslim and MENA actors largely relegated to the background or periphery of large-scale battles in which untold numbers of Fremen lose their lives.

Those battles and their artistry are part of what making Dune: part two such an effective spectacle and a masterful showcase of Villeneuve’s ability to realize worlds that are as beautiful as they are terrifying. For all its intoxicating solemnity, the film is categorically breathtaking and dominated by nuanced performances made all the more powerful by Hans Zimmer’s richly textured score. But the most impressive thing about it Dune: part two is the way it manages to weave all its threads together into a fascinating tapestry – one whose story is about to become even more monumental and ominous if Villeneuve gets the chance to expand it further.

Dune: part two Also stars Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Dave Bautista and Anya Taylor-Joy. The film is in theaters now.

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