In the director’s follow-up to 2021’s Dune, the stakes are raised, and the spectacle gets grander.

Text: Jedd Jong Images: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The glistening sands of the planet Arrakis beckon once more. Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune, looms large over the sci-fi fantasy genre. This tale of warring factions, an otherworldly drug, giant sandworms, and powerful witches has spawned a wide-ranging franchise, including lore-expanding sequel and prequel books by Herbert’s son, Brian, and Kevin J Anderson. There was a 1984 film by David Lynch, which was much maligned at the time but now a cult classic. Then there was a TV miniseries in 2000, followed by a Children of Dune miniseries.

Dune returned to the big screen in 2021 with a new adaptation, helmed by Denis Villeneuve, which garnered widespread acclaim and won six Oscars. Villeneuve made a gamble with the first film, deciding only to adapt the first half of the Dune novel, hoping that a sequel would be greenlit so he could continue the story.

He got his wish.

Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) falls in love with Chani (Zendaya)

Following the destruction of House Atreides depicted in the previous film, young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) further assimilates into the desert-dwelling Fremen tribe. As he falls in love with Chani (Zendaya), the Fremen are split on whether Paul is or isn’t the prophesied messiah, whom they call Lisan al Gaib. Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a Bene Gesserit acolyte who is pregnant with a daughter, gains power with the Fremen and engineers Paul’s ascent in status.

Paul must face various obstacles, including the sadistic Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), nephew of the tyrannical Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), who murdered Paul’s father, Leto. Feyd-Rautha is a rival to his brother, Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista), who is vying for the House Harkonnen heirship. The stage is set for a massive battle that will see Paul claim his destiny.

Florence Pugh joins the sequel’s cast, playing Princess Irulan

A film with stakes that high should be matched with visuals that do it justice, and Villeneuve, a visionary director, certainly knows how to craft a grand spectacle and high-octane sequences. He also significantly raises the star power of the sequel by casting Christopher Walken as Emperor Shaddam IV and Florence Pugh as the Emperor’s daughter, Princess Irulan.

While the 2021 film was widely praised, there were many who considered it something of a drag. Dune: Part Two retains its predecessor’s quietly majestic mood but is also more propulsive and explosive. “For the first movie, we are following Paul, who is discovering a world. It’s more meditative, more contemplative, more him in contact with the elements. And for the second one, he becomes a man, a guerrilla fighter falling in love, and wants to avenge his father, and it’s more of an action movie,” Villeneuve tells IndieWire about the sequel.

“This is very much Paul Atreides, but not the boyish figure we saw at the beginning of the first one,” Chalamet tells SFX about his character’s evolution. “This is a young man stepping into… a leadership role that he’s not necessarily keen on.” While audiences might be conditioned to root for Paul, he does not fit neatly into the traditional heroic role, and events in Dune: Part Two set him on a dark path. Chalamet describes the story as “a warning against religious fanaticism and worship of leaders or charisma… (and) a cautionary tale.”

Zendaya only appeared briefly in the previous film but has a far bigger role here. One of the challenges the actress faced was having to control her tears during emotional scenes because the Fremen must strictly conserve water, and that includes not crying. “It was… just about holding on to her composure, but also being emotional,” Zendaya tells Collider. “You have to let [the tears] fall in a very specific moment,” she says, making the scene in which Chani cries a powerful one.

Austin Butler in a scene-stealing role as the villainous Feyd-Rautha

A newcomer to the Dune universe is Austin Butler, who broke through with his Oscar-nominated lead performance in Elvis. The villainous role of Feyd-Rautha, memorably played by Sting in the 1984 movie, is one any actor would love to sink their teeth into. The nigh-unrecognisable Butler took inspiration from nature, studying snakes. “It was the movement of cobras and the speed of black mambas. We didn’t know that it would work initially, but the idea for Feyd’s black teeth and mouth was inspired by the black mamba,” he tells Time Out. One of the film’s most visually stunning sequences features Feyd doing battle in the arena on his homeworld of Giedi Prime, rendered in stark monochrome. In it, he slithers and strikes in an almost reptilian manner, relishing the bloodshed he gets to unleash.

Rebecca Ferguson reprises her role as Lady Jessica

Dune: Part 2’s box office, which has exceeded US$700 million, has led Warner Bros. to greenlight Dune: Messiah. Villeneuve is currently working on the script, but it might be a while before production on this third film begins. “I always envisioned three movies. It’s not that I want to do a franchise, but this is Dune, and Dune is a huge story,” Villeneuve told Entertainment Weekly in 2021. “In order to honour it, I think you would need at least three movies. That would be the dream. To follow Paul Atreides and his full arc would be nice.”

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Dune: Part Two

Explore the mythic journey of Paul Atreides as he unites with Chani and the Fremen while on a path of revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family.

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