‘Dune: Part Two’ Review: Bigger, Wormier and Way Far Out

Having gone big in “Dune,” his 2021 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s futuristic opus, the director Denis Villeneuve has gone bigger and more far out in the follow up. Set in the aftermath of the first movie, the sequel resumes the story boldly and quickly, delivering visions both phantasmagoric and familiar. Like Timothée Chalamet’s dashingly coifed hero — who steers monstrous sandworms over the desert like a charioteer — Villeneuve has tamed a Leviathan. The art of cinematic spectacle is alive and rocking in “Dune: Part Two,” and it’s a blast.

The new movie is a surprisingly nimble moonshot, even with all its gloom and doom and brutality. Big-screen enterprises, particularly those adapted from books with a huge, fiercely loyal readership, often have a ponderousness built in to every image. In some, you can feel the enormous effort it takes as filmmakers try to turn reams of pages into moving images that have commensurate life, artistry and pop on the screen. Adaptations can be especially deadly when moviemakers are too precious with the source material; they’re torpedoed by fealty.

“Dune” made it clear that Villeneuve isn’t that kind of textualist. As he did in the original, he has again taken plentiful liberties with Herbert’s behemoth (one hardcover edition runs 528 pages) to make “Part Two,” which he wrote with the returning Jon Spaihts. Characters, subplots and volumes of dialogue (interior and otherwise) have again been reduced or excised altogether. (I was sorry that the great character actor Stephen McKinley Henderson, who played an eerie adviser in the first movie, didn’t make the cut here.) The story — its trajectory, protagonist and concerns — remains recognizable yet also different.

“Dune” turns on Paul Atreides (Chalamet), an aristocrat who becomes a guerrilla and crusader, and whose destiny weighs as heavily on him as any crown. In adapting “Dune,” Villeneuve effectively cleaved Herbert’s novel in half. (Herbert wrote six “Dune” books, a series that has morphed into a multimedia franchise since his death in 1986.) The first part makes introductions and sketches in Paul’s back story as the beloved only son of a duke, Leto (Oscar Isaac), and his concubine, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). When it opens, the royals, on orders from the universe’s emperor, are preparing to vacate their home planet, a watery world called Caladan, to the parched planet of Arrakis, a.k.a. Dune.

The move to Arrakis goes catastrophically wrong; Paul’s father and most members of House Atreides are murdered by their enemies, most notably the pallid, villainous House Harkonnen. Paul and the Lady Jessica escape into the desert where — after much side-eyeing and muttering along with one of those climactic mano-a-mano duels that turn fictional boys into men — they find uneasy allies in a group of Fremen, the planet’s Indigenous population. A tribal people who have adapted to Dune’s harsh conditions with clever survival tactics, like form-fitting suits that conserve bodily moisture, the Fremen are scattered across the planet under the emperor’s rule. Some fight to be free; many pray for a messiah.

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