Dune: Part Two film poster and movie review

Movie Reviews

Dune: Part Two

Reviewed by:
Luke Bonanno on February 26, 2024

Theatrical Release:
March 1, 2024

This is legit, rewarding, high-octane mainstream cinema, the kind that Steven Spielberg used to make and that only Christopher Nolan now seems capable of delivering on a regular basis.

Running Time167 min


Running Time 167 min


Denis Villeneuve

Denis Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts (screenplay); Frank Herbert (novel)

Timothée Chalamet (Paul Atreides), Zendaya (Chani), Rebecca Ferguson (Lady Jessica), Josh Brolin (Gurney Halleck), Austin Butler (Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen), Florence Pugh (Princess Irulan), Dave Bautista (Glossu Rabban Harkonnen), Christopher Walken (Shaddam IV), Léa Seydoux (Lady Margot Fenring), Souheila Yacoub (Shishakli), Stellan Skarsgård (Baron Vladimir Harkonnen), Charlotte Rampling (Gaius Helen Mohiam), Javier Bardem (Stilgar), Anya Taylor-Joy (Alia)

Dune: Part Two (2024)

by Luke Bonanno

In recent years, there has been a stark divide between popular cinema and what is considered good cinema. High-performing superhero movies have been hailed as box office saviors but also decried as detrimental to the art form. When Marvel movies consistently earn a billion dollars, studios are apt to want to make more of them and other projects similar to them, which means fewer “serious” movies are being made for adults and medium budgets have more or less vanished.

But there are still instances where acclaim and accolades can come together with big budgets and impressive ticket sales. Look at 2023’s two most talked about films, Barbie and Oppenheimer, which are, in theory at least, both still in contention for the industry’s biggest awards. It is at this place where art and commerce cross where you will also find Denis Villeneuve. The French-Canadian filmmaker has been on the film world’s radar since his fourth film, 2010’s Incendies, competed for what was then called the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

That drama, adapted from a stage play and performed in a mix of French and Arabic, became the unlikely launching pad for a major Hollywood directing career. Villeneuve followed his critical darling with the twisty Thanksgiving thriller Prisoners (2013), the psychological Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle Enemy (2014), and the drug cartel thriller Sicario (2015). From here, Villeneuve moved to science fiction, a genre in which he would deliver a trio of ambitious works that were widely celebrated. The 2016 alien linguistics flick Arrival competed for top awards, earning Villeneuve his first Best Director nomination at the Oscars. A year later, Blade Runner 2049 underperformed commercially but still drew a bevy of technical Academy Award nominations, winning two. Then in 2021, Villeneuve’s Dune breathed life into a marketplace still recovering from global pandemic.

Timothée chalamet returns as protagonist paul atreides in "dune: part two. "

Dune: Part Two, a sequel contingent on the first film’s success but very much foreshadowed by open-ended storytelling, has been many a cineaste’s most anticipated film since it was confirmed back in 2021. A couple of strikes delayed it from its scheduled late 2023 release, but it arrives this week as, without question, the biggest movie of 2024 to date in scope, if not budget. In fact, we may have to wait until October’s Joker: Folie à Deux to find any movie inspiring this much anticipation.

It’s awfully hard for a film to live up to such heightened expectations, but Villeneuve’s virtually perfect track record remains in tact here. Part Two is an improvement over its predecessor, which was already one of the best pieces of spectacle cinema we’ve gotten since COVID crippled the business.

Despite his humble beginnings, Villeneuve today shows James Cameron levels of comfort when it comes to going big and swinging for the fences. There is nothing little about Part Two, a nearly three-hour epic which brims with ambition, imagination, and cinematic wonder.

Once again, the film centers on Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the exiled heir of the House Atreides, who is beginning to fulfill old prophecies regarding his family and the planet Dune. Paul is gradually winning over the Fremen, the people who inhabit the desert planet Arrakis. Some faithful Fremen, like the leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem), see Paul being the leader foretold. Others, like Paul’s love interest Chani (Zendaya), have their doubts, but his fighting skills increasingly command their respect.

Paul's lover (zendaya) and mother (rebecca ferguson) have differing views on his prophesied call to heroism.

There’s so much going on in Dune: Part Two that it hardly makes sense to synopsize it. If the first movie interested you, this is certainly one to follow up with and one that should not let you down.

It practically goes without saying that Villeneuve delivers a technical feast, one which tickles the senses on a near-consistent basis. The source text for these films, Frank Herbert’s epic 1965 novel, must just be overflowing with ideas, because this sequel is. Not all of them hit their targets, but far more do than do not.

Even with nearly three hours of runtime, the story is so dense that screentime is hard to come by for much of the large, expansive cast. That time is well-seized by Bardem, his No Country for Old Men co-lead Josh Brolin, the reliable Rebecca Ferguson, and new-to-the-series Florence Pugh. There is less to celebrate about the time afforded to Zendaya, who feels out of her depth dramatically despite having the most tentpole experience of anyone, and Austin Butler, who despite being a most worthy Oscar runner-up for his committed performance in Elvis cannot save the ruthless, hairless Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen from being a ridiculous cartoon villain.

Elvis has left the building and austin butler's follow-up performance as feyd-rautha harkonnen (right) is infinitely less interesting.

As in the first movie, the House Harkonnen is one of the more focal elements that feels off. But some false notes are perhaps inevitable in a franchise that requires us to suspend disbelief and accept that Timothée Chalamet could hold his own in adult combat. Scrutiny can reveal cracks in any beloved piece of fiction, but the Dune movies take themselves seriously enough to sometimes be ridiculous, something that the Star Wars movies, the most obvious comparison in epic sci-fi, practically embrace.

Villeneuve’s Dune does not have as hard a fanbase to win over. Most agree that David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation was something in between a disappointment and a travesty. And the literary line that began with Herbert’s text does not seem as sacred or well-known as, say, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Even the cynical with no partiality to sci-fi should be able to appreciate such a slick, well-produced film that is made for theaters and doesn’t connect to dozens of other spandex sagas.

Superhero fatigue is real, with even Marvel getting humbled lately. Moviegoing as a widespread practice seems in doubt for most of the year. Everyone geeks out about streaming series now. But Dune: Part Two is the real deal, a four-quadrant movie with more intelligence, class, and artistry than the vast majority of nine-figure production budgets. This isn’t cashing in on nostalgia, beating a dead horse, and squandering extravagant tech giant money. This is legit, rewarding, high-octane mainstream cinema, the kind that Steven Spielberg used to make and that only Christopher Nolan now seems capable of delivering on a regular basis.

One of the niftiest things about Dune: Part Two is that its large cast includes Christopher Walken as the Emperor of the Known Universe. This is exciting on its own merits because Walken is an icon who at age 80 hasn’t been seen in a really big movie since the 2000s comedies Wedding Crashers and Click almost twenty years ago. It’s doubly exciting because Walken famously danced his way through the 2000 music video of Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice”, a song whose repeated lyric “Walk without rhythym/and it won’t attract the worm” hail from Herbert’s original novel. Talk about coming full circle!

Warner Bros. Pictures has had as many high-profile struggles this decade as any studio, from its perpetually dissected, never quite corrected DC Extended Universe to its questionable streaming rebrands and tax-write-off shelvings. At the moment, though, they appear to be sitting pretty, having scored two of last year’s biggest blockbusters in Barbie and Wonka and having three of the most-anticipated releases of 2024 in Dune, Joker, and Beetlejuice Beetlejuice. They may have lost one of their greatest assets when Nolan changed studios, but they’re still capable of putting out the occasional event movie that is no punchline.

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