Director Denis Villeneuve returns to Arrakis to direct Dune Part 2 from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Jon Spaihts. Adapted from Frank Herbert’s acclaimed novel, the story is acutely accurate to the novel and well-paced despite its two hour and forty-six minute runtime.

Villeneuve recruited many of his previous Oscar-nominated collaborators, including Oscar-winning director of photography Greig Fraser (Dune, The Batman); Oscar-winning production designer Patrice Vermette; Oscar-winning editor Joe Walker; Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert; Oscar-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West and Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer.

Dune: Part Two follows the evolution of the mythic journey of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) continues as he journeys to unite the Fremen people and wage war on Arrakis against the houses that betrayed House Atreides and his late father. Specifically, warring against House Harkonnen and Stellan Skarsgard’s Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Baron Harkonnen and the Emperor (Christopher Walken).

Baron is furious over the interruption of the spice production on Arrakis, which is necessary for high speed intergalactic travel. It seems that Paul Atreides is growing as a leader and military strategist. Paul’s leadership position in the Fremen is slowly expanded by his actions and the subtle work of his supernaturally powered mother, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson).

Jessica is told that the Fremen’s Reverend Mother is dying and that Jessica must replace her or face death as she is of no use to the society. To fulfill the replacement, Jessica must take on the Reverend Mother’s memories by drinking the Water of Life (a poisonous substance extracted from the sand worms which is fatal to men and the untrained). Jessica survives and inherits the memories, but the process prematurely awakens the mind of her unborn daughter, Alia (Anya Taylor-Joy).

Working as a supernatural duo, they agree to focus to convince the Fremen of the prophecy and build a legion of brainwashed loyalists who will die for Paul Atreides. Chani and her friend Shishakli believe the prophecy was a lie meant to manipulate the Fremen. Chani grows closer to Paul the person, giving him tips on sand-walking and helping him when she can (while fighting her feelings of contempt for the prophecy that has a hold on her people).

Paul adopts the Fremen names “Usul” and “Muad’Dib” after riding the sand worm and leading the Fremen to regain territory on their home world. Due to the Fremen’s devastating spice raids, Baron Harkonnen replaces his incompetent nephew Rabban (Dave Bautista) with his skilled, murderous, and blood-thirsty nephew, Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler).

At this point, the script veers into the antagonists’ narrative and a solid twenty minutes of heavy lifting are performed… it’s one of the only points in the film where you see the gears turning with both the script plotting and the editing… everything is less fluid and you’re aware the story on Arrakis is essentially on pause as we welcome the new characters needed for the climatic finale.

Feyd-Rautha is shown to casually murder women as easily as he draw breath, and his skill as a fighter is showcased in the gladiator coliseum. He is eager to takeover the offensive operations on Arrakis and show Baron what he’s capable of besting the Fremen terrorists assaulting their spice operation.

The narrative detour is made much more palpable by the incredible character work provided by Austin Butler (Elvis). Butler’s craftsmanship is unparalleled, sounding exactly like Stellan Skarsgard’s vocal twin and carrying the warrior intensity in his eyes.

Back on Arrakis, Jessica travels south as the new Reverend Mother. Paul remains in the north, fearing that a holy war is inevitable if he goes south (based on his visions of the future). In a moment of convenience, Paul reunites with his old mentor, Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), who leads him to House Atreides’ hidden atomic stockpile — which is quite handy for leading a revolt.

It’s at this time at Feyd-Rautha attacks Arrakis will his full fury, forcing Paul and the surviving Fremen to journey to the south. Paul seeks out the Water of Life and falls into a coma after drinking it. Chani angrily claims that Jessica’s brainwashing effected Paul and led him to certain death. Jessica commands Chani, using her supernatural voice, to mix one of her tears with the blue liquid and place it on Paul’s lips.

The ritual works and Paul awakens with a more defined understanding of the past, present, and future… Paul has a strange encounter with his unborn sister who is now decades older and played by Anya Taylor Joy. Paul receives another vision that reveals his mother is Baron Harroken’s daughter, making Paul both an Atreides and a Harkonnen.

At an underground Fremen meeting, Paul declares himself the Lisan al Gaib and commands the Fremen to take their home world from House Harroken. Paul’s ability to read minds convinces the Fremen to back Paul as Lisan al Gaib.

The film goes full action in the third act as the Fremen launch the atomic arsenal and ride giant sand worms into battle. The score, sound design, and cinematography provide some of the most enthralling storytelling as this sonic world and visual landscape washes over the audience.

The Fremen are able to overpower the military (know as Sardaukar) and Paul kills the Baron, after revealing that he knows he is his grandfather.

Paul then challenges the Emperor (Walken) for the throne and the Emperor chooses Feyd-Rautha (Butler) as his champion. Paul faces the worthy adversary and Paul takes two nearly fatal blows before claiming victory by executing Feyd-Rautha with one of the blades left in his own body.

Paul asks for Irulan’s (Florence Pugh) hand in marriage and she agrees on the condition that her father lives. Unfortunately, the Great Houses arrive in the orbit of Arrakis and reject Paul’s ascendancy to power. Jessica comments the beginning of Muad’Dib’s holy war as Chani refuses to bow to Paul and departs in anger.

It goes without saying that Villeneuve delivers a riveting adaptation of this science fiction novel, closing the first book’s plot with Dune Part 2. In terms of below the line artisans, they are officially back in the Oscar hunt — with nearly a full year until the 2025 ceremony.

The cast is most likely to receive a SAG award for ensemble than any individual recognition, but Villeneuve for director is a sure thing. The pace and narrative of Dune Part 2 were in many ways more epic than the first film, however I found the film less engaging than its predecessor.

The visual architecture of Dune Part 2 and its seamless melding of practice backgrounds with digital elements is nothing short of miraculous. The sound design also transports one deeper into Villeneuve’s richly designed world… whether it’s the almost soothing sound of the wind as it scatters the desert sand, or the deeply soul-stirring thumper device that calls sand worms to the Fremen in the desert.

Like the thump device beckoning the sand worms to a location, I’ll be similarly drawn to the theater for Villeneuve’s next chapter in the Dune saga.

Letter Grade: A-

About The Author

Founder, Awards Editor

Byron Burton is the Awards Editor and Chief Critic at Awards Focus and a National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award winning journalist for his work at The Hollywood Reporter.

Byron is a voting member of the Television Academy, Critics Choice Association, and the Society of Composers & Lyricists (the SCL) for his work on Marvel's X-Men Apocalypse (2016). Working as a journalist and moderator, Byron hosts Emmy and Oscar panels for the major studios, featuring their Below The Line and Above The Line nominees (in partnership with their respective guilds).

Moderating highlights include Ingle Dodd's "Behind the Slate" Screening Series and their "Spotlight Live" event at the American Legion in Hollywood. Byron covered the six person panel for Universal's "NOPE" as well as panels for Hulu's "Pam & Tommy Lee" and "Welcome to Chippendales" and HBO Max's "Barry" and "Euphoria."

For songwriters and composers, Byron is a frequent moderator for panels with the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) as well as The ArcLight's Hitting the High Note Oscar series.

Byron's panels range from FX's Fargo to Netflix's The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, The Witcher & Bridgerton; HBO Max's The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Succession, Insecure, & Lovecraft Country; Amazon Studios' The Legend of Vox Machina, Wild Cat, & Annette; and Apple TV+s Ted Lasso, Bad Sisters, and 5 Days at Memorial.

In February of 2020, Byron organized and hosted the Aiding Australia Initiative; launched to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of Australia's wildlife (an estimated 3 billion animals killed or maimed and a landmass the size of Syria decimated).

Participating talent for Aiding Australia includes Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Josh Brolin, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tim Allen, Colin Hay, Drew Struzan, and Michael Rosenbaum.

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