Part-Time Review: Dune: Part Two (2024)


Denis Villeneuve's two Dune films are great examples of films that seem perfectly built to reel me in and get me excited only to prove an ultimately disappointing and unfulfilling experience. I love epic sci-fi/war/action films and find myself excited by their usual trappings and potential: large production scale, visual effects, creative historical and cultural portrayals, iconic characters, unique soundscapes, and imaginative action sequences. Throw in Denis Villeneuve, one of my favorite working directors (Arrival, Sicario) at the helm, and my anticipation was pretty high.

I found Dune: Part Two to be a much more enjoyable entry than the first (though perhaps not technically 'better'), but it was still hampered by my general dislike for the story and my particular dislike for the way Villeneuve has chosen to tell it. There’s a “on one hand positive, on the other a negative” pattern to my experience that perhaps will help to describe my experience of it best:
  • It’s technically a sci-fi epic with warring houses over several planets. However, it’s not really much of an epic as it’s actually quite limited to like 80% of its runtime being in various desert locations. There's genuine scope to other locations, but the story just doesn't travel much distance for its epic runtime and reputation.
  • It’s a story whose central character plays the classic “One” figure modeled on the messiah archetype – an inherently interesting template to me and for many other stories. However, Paul Atreides playes the figure in such a quiet and uncharismatic way that it failed to register with me. We spend most of our time with Paul, but he’s fairly boring and despite his ability to adapt to the ways of a foreign tribe he has come to love, seems fairly unremarkable on screen as well. Timothee Chalamet does his best here, but he’s not really allowed to do much more than brood and whisper until the third act. For someone who is meant to unite foreign peoples and their religious fundamentalists to take on supposedly hardened and ingenious ruling family dynasties – you’d think there be much more to the guy on the screen.
  • It’s a visual effects extravaganza with many memorable shots and interesting action moments. However, they are used sparingly and the film seems to always resist any kind of extended hero f/x action set pieces. Even the major final battle of the film only takes up like ten minutes of the film from the planning of the battle to the execution and conclusion of it. These action sequences are much more about tension and pops of artistic visuals then they are about the action itself.
  • It’s a slow and reflective film, often preferring to keep complicated terms, names, and references rather than simplify for wide audiences. There's a genuine respect for adult intelligence on display here. However, the topics they are reflecting on are well worn areas with conclusions that we can all anticipate and never felt fulfilling to me in the end. There’s a lot of thought behind the visuals with allusions to cultural and historical events (Middle East, Vietnam being prime examples), but they never seem to strike deeper than mere allusions.
  • It’s got amazing production and costume design, but without characters that pop (outside of the villains), they remain more like exercises in art rather than integrated into an epic story. The production design displays complexity and depth in their costuming and technology, but then there’s moments like the final battle where the highly evolved technological Emperor and Harkonnen armies can’t see hundreds of thousands of rebel fighters like a mile from their home base? They can't detect massive worms coming their way?

That I’m questioning things like that doesn’t necessarily mean the movie is bad or that I’ve discovered some genuine flaw in it. What it shows is that I was just never fully engaged with what the film was trying to do that my mind kept wandering elsewhere. In other words, it just didn’t work for me. Ridley Scott brought forth both Gladiator (loved it!) and Kingdom of Heaven (hated it!). This one felt much more like Denis Villeneuve's Kingdom of Heaven for me. Your experience may vary.