April 16, 2024

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'Dune: Part 2' movie review: Bigger, more dangerous and far, far away

'Dune: Part 2' movie review: Bigger, more dangerous and far, far away

Herbert's novel is a fascinating piece of writing, a meticulously detailed and absorbing fantasy about faith and doubt, survival and struggle, idealism and nihilism. Herbert was a world builder par excellence, and he drew on the wonder of references to create a fantastical world. The results are unusual enough to arouse curiosity and, at times, a sense of wonder, even as the story retains a connection to reality beyond its pages. It is a dense palimpsest, with influences ranging from Greek mythology to Shakespearean tragedy and Jungian psychology. Repeatedly, especially in its representation of a hostile environment and religious intolerance, it can also seem like a warning to the present day.

Villeneuve's approach to adapting the novel is, effectively, one of judicious distillation. Like the first film, Part II presents the plot fluently (it's easy to follow), with dialogue and action sequences that match the spirit of the book, its overarching narrative arc, its verve and its strangeness. The dialogue feels natural, even when characters throw up names like the Bene Gesserit, a mysterious religious women's society that takes on greater importance in “Part Two.” Most importantly, the action scenes don't stall the movie or make the rest of the film seem irrelevant. Mainstream adventure films often move between expository and action sequences with tiresome predictability; Here, everything flows.

“Dunes” is finally a war story, like many contemporary screen spectacles, and it isn’t long until “Part Two” before the bodies start falling. In the fast-paced opener, Harkonnen's soldiers, led by a bald-headed brawler named Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista), descend onto the desert floor from their flying machines. Wearing bulky uniforms that make them look as heavy as old-school deep-sea divers, the soldiers seem unable to take on the Fremen, agile fighters with the parkour moves and balance of a goat. But Villeneuve is a master of surprises, and knows how to mobilize contrasts – light and dark, large and small – to generate interest and tension. Soon the Harkonnen's planes are quickly flying into the air, and are powered up.

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“Part Two” moves with similar ingenuity, despite all the heaviness and Byzantine complexities and the complex conspiracies shared between the various factions. The sequel returns a number of familiar faces, including Josh Brolin as Atreides' loyalist Gurney Halleck and Stellan Skarsgård as the brutal Baron. The Baron, the leader of the Harkonnen family, spends much of his time killing henchmen or soaking his massive, often exposed, spherical body in a pool of what looks like crude oil. Rabanne, his incompetent nephew, is quickly overshadowed by the most striking addition to the Dune detachment, another nephew, Vid Rotha, a malignant tumor played by an unrecognizable and utterly terrifying Austin Butler.

Being spectrally white and seemingly hairless like its uncle, the Feyd-Rautha looks like a giant worm. He is a warrior and a villain just like his uncle. However, he's not the usual sexy hero despite Butler's muscled curves and sensual pout, and the character remains a nagging narrative question mark. Feyd-Rautha becomes Paul's rival, but also serves as a counterpart to the massive sandworms that travel beneath the surface of Arrakis and produce the planet's priceless natural resource, known as the mixture or spice. The spice, as important as petroleum, as addictive as the taste, sparkles like fairy dust, changes minds, turns eyes bright blue, but mostly keeps this universe going – and violently churning.