Film Critic Simone Salvatore finds Dune: Part Two to be a formidable demonstration of cinematic skill

Written by Simone Salvatore
MSc Marketing Student

Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 novel Dune, a book often touted as science fiction’s equivalent to The Lord of the Rings, was long considered unfilmable. After the disastrous reception of David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation and the lukewarm response to the SyFy television adaptation in 2000, it seemed that no filmmaker would ever be able to faithfully translate the story of Paul Atredies onto the screen.

However, hopes were lifted once again when it was announced that Denis Villenueve (Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) would be rebooting the franchise; but this hope was somewhat tempered by the fact that the 2021 film would only be adapting the first half of the story. The ultimate legacy of this adaptation rested entirely on the success of its sequel, which would cover the novel’s second half. Thankfully, I’m extremely happy to report that Villenueve and his team have not only stuck the landing, but have delivered arguably one of the best sci-fi blockbusters of the last 20 years.

The film picks up almost immediately where the first film left off; Paul Atredies (Timothée Chalamet), having survived the massacre of his house by its arch-rivals the Harkonnens, is still hiding out in the deserts of Arrakis with his pregnant mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) in the care of the planet’s natives, The Fremen. He begins to plot his revenge against the Harkonnens for destroying his family, but things become more complicated when a number of the Fremen believe him to be the Lisan Al Gaib, a prophet sent to lead them to freedom and prosperity.

From that synopsis alone, it’s very easy to draw comparisons between this film and the Star Wars saga; a desert planet setting, a villainous empire to fight against, the prophecy of a chosen one sent to liberate the universe from evil: it all sounds very familiar. However, what sets the Dune universe apart from the works of George Lucas is that rather than feeding into the typical “chosen one” narrative, it seeks to deconstruct it. Though many of the Fremen declare Paul as a prophesied saviour sent to lead them to victory, others, including Paul’s own lover Chani (Zendaya), dismiss these hopes as little more than religious propaganda. Even the young Atredies himself actively rejects the label of messiah at first, insisting that he wants only to fight alongside the people of Arrakis, not rule them.

Rather than feeding into the typical “chosen one” narrative, [Dune] seeks to deconstruct it

However, as Paul starts to perform feats of incredible foresight and physical prowess that indicate he is in fact the chosen one, more and more Fremen start to buy into the idea, helped in no small part by the cunning scheming of Jessica. In the end, Paul eventually embraces his identity as the Lisan Al Gaib in order to attain his desired revenge against the Emperor and the Harkonnens, and by this point, the Fremen are more than happy to oblige. Whether or not Paul actually is this prophesied saviour isn’t really relevant; what matters is that the Fremen believe he is, and that they will go to great lengths to help him achieve his goals. As Stilgar (Javier Bardem) declares to Paul, “I don’t care what you believe! *I* believe!”. Even by the film’s conclusion, it becomes soberingly clear that even after liberating Arrakis and overthrowing the Emperor, the Fremen’s dedication to Paul is so great that they are willing to start a holy war in his name – a war he spent the majority of the two films desperately trying to avoid. Ultimately, Dune: Part Two is not your typical story of a hero destined to save the universe, but a warning against religious fanaticism and the dangers of embracing god-like hero figures.

One of the film’s most noteworthy aspects is its star-studded cast, (almost) all of whom are brilliant. Timothée Chalamet, an actor I’m generally fairly indifferent to, absolutely steals the show as Paul, managing to expertly tackle both the quiet, unassuming moments and the loud, rage-fuelled speeches that the character requires. Chani also proves a standout, being given far more to in this film than in the first, and Zendaya proves herself game, as she ends up becoming the only voice of reason among a people corrupted by blind fanaticism. Other standouts include Javier Bardem as Stilgar, a Fremen leader who slowly becomes blinded by his devotion to the Lisan Al Gaib, Josh Brolin as the former Atreides weapons master turned-smuggler Gurney Halleck, who encourages Paul to embrace his messianic identity to avenge his slain kin, and Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha, the psychotic younger nephew and heir of Baron Vladmir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard).

This is a movie that absolutely demands to be seen on the big screen

The only actor whose performance I was left somewhat puzzled by was Christopher Walken as Emperor Shaddam, the orchestrator of the Atreides massacre in the first film. Upon hearing that he’d been cast in the role, I was immediately excited, as Walken is no stranger to playing unrepentant, scenery-chewing villains- yet I was met with a quieter, more subdued performance than we’re used to seeing from the veteran character actor. On one hand, this approach is somewhat appropriate, as it effectively shows that Shaddam is not a conniving mastermind in the vein of Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, but instead a frail, tired old man desperately clinging to his empire. On the other hand, Walken’s performance is so restrained that this frailness sometimes comes across as disinterest for much of his screentime, though his final confrontation with Paul on Arrakis is arguably the best work Walken has done in years.

As with all of Villenueve’s movies, the film is visually gorgeous; every penny of the film’s $190 million budget is on clear display. Everything from the sun-scorched, worm-infested deserts of Arrakis to the monochrome wastelands of the Harkonnen homeworld Giedi Prime is stunningly photographed by cinematographer Grieg Fraser, with each new location feeling like a tangible world inhabited by the characters rather than the usual less-than-convincing green-screen effects. The exceptional sound design also compliments the visuals incredibly well, and Hans Zimmer’s musical score lends both an impressive grandiosity and a tender heartfeltness to the proceedings. There’s no two ways about it; this is a movie that absolutely demands to be seenon the big screen; anything less would be a disservice to the  incredible craftsmanship ofVillenueve and his team.


Dune: Part Two is a marvel of filmmaking, masterfully translating its source material into an awe-inspiring big screen achievement whilst never diluting the subversive message at its core. It’s safe to say that should Dune: Messiah be greenlit (and judging by the film’s box office success, it’s no small possibility), you can bet that I’ll be first in line to see what Villeneuve & Co. will cook up.

Rating: 9/10

Dune: Part Two is in cinemas now.

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