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Dune: Part Two: A sci-fi masterpiece for the ages

Poster art for Dune: Part Two. (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Despite receiving delays due to the global pandemic and premiering at the same time on HBO Max, the first part of Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited, much anticipated and lifelong passion project, an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel “Dune,” released to widespread praise from critics and audiences in 2021. The film made an impressive $400 million in its original run despite the weakened release and swept that year’s Academy Awards, winning a surprising six out of its 10 nominations. With the second half of the novel finally being brought to the big screen, Villeneuve has achieved his dream, and “Dune: Part Two” accomplishes that feat with flying colors.

“Dune: Part Two” picks up right where the first film ended, with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) uniting with the Fremen, the ritualistic natives of the desert world Arrakis, some of whom believe Paul to be the messianic “Lisan al-Gaib.” Slowly but surely, Paul becomes more ingrained in the Fremen culture and begins to develop a relationship with the Fremen girl Chani (Zendaya). As time goes on, Paul must lead the Fremen into battle as he seeks revenge on House Harkonnenincluding their heir Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler)and Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken) for the murder of his father, which could lead to an all-out war that could change the course of history forever.

The most obvious praise “Dune: Part Two” deserves is its style in regards to the visual and auditory experience it provides audiences with. Villeneuve’s vision for the “Dune” universe on a visual level was pitch perfect in the first film and carries over into the second, with most of the crew returning as well. Patrice Vermette’s production design brings all the locations, creatures and characters to life marvelously, perfectly capturing Arrakis and the other worlds in their own styles. Joe Walker’s editing is smooth as silk, with no shot too short and rarely a shot too long. Jacqueline West’s costume design is varied, the entire sound team brings their A-game once again, and the visual effects are flawless and strike a great balance between practical effects and CGI.

Out of all the technical achievements in the film, the two biggest standouts are the cinematography and score. Greig Fraser delivers yet another masterfully shot film, with every last frame being utterly mesmerizing to look at. The colors, the composition, the lightingeverything comes together to make the cinematography in the film so utterly fantastic that it could be considered some of the greatest in recent memory. The same can be said for Hans Zimmer’s legendary score, which is immediately iconic, ethereal, emotional and epic, and elevates the film to an even higher level than it otherwise would have reached and makes this version of “Dune” complete.

Even without some of the larger names from the previous installment like Oscar Isaac and Jason Momoa, the cast does a fantastic job all-around. Chalamet is excellent as Paul, and his development throughout the filmgoing from a young man wanting to learn the ways of the native Fremen to a horrifying, all-powerful Messiahis engrossing and tragic to watch. Zendaya is great as Chani, and she helps serve as the emotional core of the story, helping Paul when she can while desperately trying to fight for her people and beliefs. Ferguson brings a lot of weight and a horrific level of power to Jessica, Javier Bardem is unnerving to watch as Stilgar, the leader of the Fremen and an utter religious zealot, and new additions such as Walken as the Emperor, Léa Seydoux as fellow Bene Gesserit member Lady Margot and Florence Pugh as the Emperor’s daughter Irulan are all exceptional in their roles.

The one actor who leaves the biggest and best impression out of the entire cast is easily Butler as Feyd-Rautha. Long gone is Butler’s grating Elvis Presley impression; here he delivers a guttural, utterly terrifying performance that allows him to gleefully relish in how psychotically evil Feyd is. While he is largely absent for the first half of the film, when he finally arrives, you simply cannot take your eyes off of him.

Villeneuve is at the heart of the film on a writing and directing front, and he excels at both. Villeneuve and co-writer Jon Spaihts were tasked with balancing grandiose action sequences, slower and more intimate character moments, nightmarish imagery and themes and setting up a future adaptation of the follow-up book, “Dune Messiah,” and do so perfectly. The pacing is flawless even with a slow burn start, the dialogue is imposing and powerful, the set pieces are masterfully directed and as engrossing as you could possibly imagineespecially in IMAXand while there are a good amount of changes from the book, they are all justified and help to tell this version of the story.

With all the hype and effort behind it, it is safe to say that “Dune: Part Two” not only lived up to the hype, it might be a new science-fiction masterpiece. The film is an absolute visual marvel with gorgeous cinematography and production value. Its sound and score make it an auditory experience like none other, the entire cast brings their all and carry the film to the very end, and Villeneuve’s writing and direction show nothing but absolute passion and care for the source material. However long it takes to get the final installment in Villeneuve’s take on the “Dune” universe, it will most certainly be worth the wait after how incredibly “Part Two” delivered. It was nothing short of an extraordinary, masterful experience.

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