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  • Writer's pictureDenise Breen

Dune Part 2 - it's epic, it's astounding, it is beautiful to look at, it's better than Part 1 but it's as hollow as an Easter egg.

3.5 out of 5

It's been some time since we had anything this epic on our cinema screens and have no doubt, Dune Part 2 is epic. I advise seeing it on the biggest screen with the loudest sound system you can find. Otherwise there is a chance you might just fall asleep.

In 2021, Dune Part 1, the unfilmable film wormed its way into our cinemas. At the time, I gave it 4 out of 5 and some may wonder why I've given Part 2 a lesser score. To be honest, I was fatigued from superhero films back in 2021 and Dune was a refreshing, world-building film. Fast-forward to 2024 and we are back on Arrakis where we find Paul Atreides living among the Fremen. He’s focusing on survival and revenge against the Harkonen and the Emperor for betraying his family and murdering his father. Keeping up?

That bring us to an important point. Yes, you need to have seen Part 1 before seeing Part 2. There's no real re-cap. Oh, and visit the loo beforehand too because it has a bladder-testing run-time of 2 hours and 46 minutes.

The film remains exciting and effective as long as it remains in the heart of the desert. Cinematographer Greig Fraser uses the wide, golden expanse as his playground as he waxes eloquent of the terrain's endless beauty and fury with his frames. As per their state of mind, characters turn into specks in the golden sea or emerge bigger than the desert they're trying to tame. When Greig strips the screen of all its colours with a pale-moonlight colour palette once the action moves away from the desert, you crave for the rose-tinted amber light he bathed the sand dunes in from the beginning.

Production designer Patrice Vermette, who won an Oscar for Part 1, isn't going on an overdrive in the sequel. With the desert doing most of the world-building, he's left to lend his expertise to the tiniest parts of the whole. Yet the tents, sand compactors, and even the binoculars he designed look so compact and chic that they immediately remind us of the space and time the story is set in. Denis, along with his gloriously gifted technicians, builds a cultural capsule that amplifies Frank Hebert's imagination manyfold.

The two best written scenes of the film are also set in the desert. When Stilgar (Javier Bardem) takes Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) to a hidden reservoir and explains it as the sacred water made out of the body fluids of people who've died in the desert, it gives an instant insight into the way the Fremen live – they conserve, steal, and worship water. When Jessica sheds a tear and Stilgar picks it up and licks it, saying “Don't waste your water, even for the dead,” it lends a sense of purpose to their exchange minutes ago, when he warns her to not throw up in the desert (and waste so much body water).

Another scene encapsulates the love language of desert. Paul (Timothee Chalamet) and Chani (Zendaya) sitting on a sand dune in that eclipsed, amber light, discuss how different they are. She doesn't believe him when he tells her that there's as much water back in his homeland as there's sand here, and people dive into it, which is called ‘swimming.’ Visibly in awe, Chani insists that she'd like to stay away from the world of castles because the desert treats both men and women equally. They then exchange their waters (by kissing).

These are distinctly brilliant scenes, but they're far and few in this over-long saga. Besides a few well-choreographed action scenes, most of Dune: Part 2 shares the same issues as its predecessor – it stretches its vision so high to measure its lofty ideas that it ends up falling back with a thud. Paul's central conflict of whether he should believe in the prophecy and posture as a messiah or dismiss it and grow organically like one of the people takes some tadpole leaps, but it's unable to maintain a steady graph.

Timothee gets more of a range to perform here thsn in Part 1. He's well-cast as a young boy on whom greatness has been imposed – but his static face and body language are unable to bear the weight of what the story demands him to convey and we know he can do better as shown in the recent Wonka. Zendaya as Chani is his voice of reason. She gets some moments to shine, but isn't given the equal treatment that we were talking about earlier. Javier Bardem gets to have some fun with his accent and comic timing, and Stellan Skasgard is busy chilling like he did in the first part, but what's the rest of the seasoned cast doing?

For instance, Dave Bautista and Josh Brolin, who were expected to have more to do in this part, are pushed to the sidelines yet again. Bautista is in full WWE form and screaming his lungs out, and his final showdown with Josh Brolin ends within the blink of an eye after a fairly long build-up. It's the same case with Timothee's Paul and Austin Butler's Feyd-Rautha. Their duel at the end is fair, but not worthy of the hype built ever since the latter's entry at the half-mark. Co-writers Denis and John Spaihts could've dedicated more time to these young actors wrestling it out.

Which brings me to Hans Zimmer's score. Yes, it's all grand and ominous. But what's it pointing to? The stakes of the screenplay are unable to sync with the sense of foreboding the score invokes. Sure, something life-altering, universe-shifting is going to happen – but when? With new characters introduced, Paul beginning to own his prophecy, and Chani resolving to go against him, there's a third part in the offing. Can we then expect Denis to drum up the drama, instead of only the sound and scale that are supposed to aid the drama? If not, we need a prophecy and messianic intervention right away.

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