Dune: Part Two Review – Denis Villeneuve’s Excellent Sci-Fi Sequel Gets The Spice Flowing

I’ve long described Denis Villeneuve’s cinematic approach to “Dune” as an attempt to make “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Lawrence of Arabia” at the same time, combining the bold sci-fi imagery of the former with the desert imperialism drama of the latter. “Dune: Part Two” goes further into both of those comparisons; Stanley Kubrick’s “Star Baby” is homaged through surreal shots inside the womb of Lady Jessica (Rebecca Fergusson), and Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is now fully in the T.E. Lawrence-esque “going native” part of his story arc. While Villeneuve’s style has traditionally leaned towards Kubrickian detachment, the story of “Dune: Part Two” pushes him closer to the more emotional strengths of David Lean’s work.

The early goings of “Dune: Part Two” also invite another movie comparison that might come more unexpected: “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.” Obviously, this isn’t a farce like the Python film — though there is more humor here than you might expect from the generally serious tone — but there’s a similarly critical approach to Messianic mythology and religious fervor, and some scenes play out as just slightly more serious versions of “Life of Brian” scenes. Is Paul Atreides the Lisan Al-Gaib, or a very naughty boy? The answer might very well be both.

How we’re supposed to feel about Paul at this point is complicated. Do we view him as a hero or a villain? Are we rooting for him to get revenge on the grotesquely evil Harkonnen family or afraid he’ll become just like his enemies? Is he helping the Fremen as their equal or acting as their savior to use them for his own ends — and to what ends are the Bene Gesserit using him? Chani’s role is important for providing a lens through which to look at Paul: She’s critical of this outsider coming in as a savior to her people and skeptical of all the prophecies surrounding him, and yet she knows she’s caught up in these prophecies with him — and damn it, she falls in love with him despite her doubts. In “Part One,” Zendaya does a lot with very little screen time; in “Part Two,” she’s the tragic heart of the whole movie.

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