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Business News/ News / Dune: Part Two Is Brutal, Barbaric and a Total Blast: Review

Dune: Part Two Is Brutal, Barbaric and a Total Blast: Review

You might know the story. You can’t imagine the visuals.

Dune: Part Two Is Brutal, Barbaric and a Total Blast: ReviewPremium
Dune: Part Two Is Brutal, Barbaric and a Total Blast: Review

(Bloomberg) -- If it’s true that science fiction is a mirror of our time, Dune isn’t a particularly flattering reflection.

The original novel, written by Frank Herbert in 1965, envisioned a universe several thousand years in the future where space travel is a reality, but male-dominated feudal systems have stuck around. There are emperors, dukes, soldiers and peasants; when women have power, it’s only exercised in the shadows. War is still fought (often with swords), and religion remains the dominant means of controlling the masses.

For a book written at the dawn of the Space Age and in the beginnings of feminism’s second wave, it’s a bleak prognosis: Even in space we’ll be stuck with the strictures of a 15th century Italian city-state.

But it cuts both ways. Dune’s setting might be retrograde, but its premise—a child avenges his father and becomes a man—is a tale as old as time, and one that continues to resonate with generations of readers. 

Now, six decades and one disastrous, 1980s-era attempt to cinematize it later, director Denis Villeneuve has taken a crack at the story, too. And it’s a good thing he did. Dune: Part Two (in theaters March 1) is an undeniable triumph—a kinetic, beautifully shot exercise in wish-fulfillment whose denouement is so brutal it makes Taken seem like a model of nonviolent conflict resolution.

Dune: Part One (2021) was, like most origin stories, an elaborate throat-clearing that teed up the sequel. It was a mixed bag: Tense, quiet and lovely, it was critically and commercially successful but dogged by long stretches where nothing consequential happened. (A satirical headline from the Onion: “‘Dune: Part Two’ To Pick Up Right Where Viewers Fell Asleep During First One.") 

Villeneuve’s movies faithfully follow the book. In Dune: Part One, Paul Atreides (an appropriately youthful Timothée Chalamet) is heir to one of the universe’s ruling dynasties through his father, Duke Leto. His mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), is part of the Bene Gesserit, a quasi-religious organization whose all-female adherents have mystical powers including the ability to use a voice that compels people to follow their orders.

Paul, his family and their attendants travel from their lush home world to the sand planet of Arrakis, which makes up for its lack of water with an abundance of Spice, a rare commodity that makes space travel possible. They’ve been gifted the planet by the Emperor, although it’s a poisoned chalice: The Atreides are quickly betrayed by a sadistic rival house, led by Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård, weary, bloated and cruel). 

Paul’s father is murdered, his troops are massacred, and Paul and his mother escape into the desert, where they meet the Fremen, the indigenous inhabitants of Arakkis.

The first film ended there. Dune: Part Two picks up just hours after the first left off, when Paul and his mother band together with clan leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and a group that includes Chani (a surprisingly underused Zendaya), who becomes Paul’s love interest. In Part One, Paul’s dreams included clairvoyant glimpses of Chani.

Once he’s with her, though, he can only dream of mass genocide. (Relatable!) These dreams, he realizes, are the future, or at least a possible future if the Fremen recognize him as a messiah. This isn’t an academic concern: A devoted group of Fremen has decided that Paul is a long-prophesied savior named the Lisan al-Gaib, and in fact he very well may be. But the attendant religious fervor is something Paul is initially desperate to avoid. 

Paul’s angst and Chani’s slow transition into a sullen moral compass are the least interesting moments in an otherwise brisk plot, as skirmishes and extraterrestrial political machinations snowball toward an operatic climax. Nearly every shot in the movie is grand in proportion, color and scope; Hans Zimmer’s hulking score supercharges the action.

Fremen strongholds evoke the ancient temple complex of Petra, and the Harkonnen home world of Giedi Prime is so grandiose (monochromatic, brutalist, towering and spare) that you have to commend the Harkonnens: They might murder subordinates for fun, but they have an undeniable eye for design.

You can’t ponder those vast unadorned floors for too long, though, because Baron Harkonnen’s nephew Feyd-Rautha (played by a shaved Austin Butler, who chews the scenery) struts across them, taking center stage on his way to Arrakis. Paul, you see, has become a thorn in the Harkonnens’ side, winning points for the Fremen with daring attacks on Spice harvesters and troops. With every act of bravery, he gains even more followers, even as he insists he’s nothing but your average royal clairvoyant.

The baron needs Feyd-Rautha—a violent sociopath, even by Harkonnen standards—to take care of it, and Feyd-Rautha is thrilled to oblige. Butler is by far the most enjoyable actor in the film. The good guys are weighed down by the humorless burden of their destiny; Feyd-Rautha is just there to have fun.

Other major actors flit along the periphery. The Emperor (Christopher Walken) is increasingly nervous about the power struggles on Arrakis; the Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling), another Bene Geserit, continues to counsel him with a mixture of good and terrible advice.

And the periphery is where they stay, because Dune: Part Two is really all about Paul: his struggles, his awakening and his revenge. To say that his retribution is as barbaric as the movie’s social mores gives nothing away. This is a story that’s been told many times before.

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Published: 27 Feb 2024, 12:39 AM IST
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