New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: ‘Dune: Part Two’ resonates now more than ever before

Frank Herbert’s “Dune” may be nearing its 60th anniversary, but Denis Villeneuve’s continuation of the 2021 film adaptation reinvigorates the epic sci-fi story.
(Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Frank Herbert’s “Dune” is a behemoth of a series, with six parts and — for some reason — 20 spin-off novels expanding the universe. Despite its extensive worldbuilding and status as a foundational sci-fi series, “Dune” has seen many previous adaptation attempts face critical backlash and production challenges.

But the second installment of Denis Villeneuve’s beloved take on the series has been well worth the wait. The nuanced and enthralling retelling of Herbert’s first book might just be enough to lift the “Dune” curse by situating the series as a reflection of today.

“Dune: Part Two” continues directly where the 2021 film left off, as Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) narrowly escape capture and are taken in by a group of Fremen, Arrakis’s indigenous population. Together with rebel leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and Paul’s mentor and love interest Chani (Zendaya), they join forces to enact vengeance on the Harkonnens and the emperor. Beset by political scheming, radical extremists and nightmarish visions, Paul must come to terms with the prophetic destiny that has been forged from him.

“Dune: Part Two” lives up to the grandeur and massive proportions of Herbert’s story in its continued development of the Empire of the Known Universe. Guerilla spice raids in the warm sand dunes of Arrakis are starkly contrasted with the lush greenery of the Emperor’s ancestral planet and the cold black-and-white Harkonnen planet Giedi Prime. The latter of which features a grand arena where Austin Butler’s Feyd-Rautha kills Paul for sport. Wide-shot scenes of thousands of Fremen worshippers kneeling at Paul’s feet, giant sandworms engulfing fallen fighters and a gripping duel between Paul and Feyd-Rautha in the climax prove the film is best described in one word: epic.

Villeneuve’s attention to detail proves that “Dune: Part Two” isn’t simply epic because of its extravagant visuals — it’s epic because of how the characters’ intricacies reflect the stakes of living alongside religious fundamentalism and fascist leadership, themes all too common for today’s audiences. Quiet as a Muad’dib desert mouse, Paul takes strategic, methodical strides when speaking, sandwalking or fighting, hiding under the surface until he breaks through in a harrowing, fervent monologue delivered in the Fremen language as he ascends to the status of their messiah.

Through Paul’s character arc, Villneuve also engages in a nuanced critique of the white savior trope — a key theme in the source material.  As the young leader transforms into a charismatic figurehead, he begins to abandon his humanity, something made evident through the shifting attitudes of those around him. He’s deified by religious fundamentalists like Stilgar, who demonstrate a fanatic willingness to sacrifice their own lives for Paul to fulfill a vague prophecy. When the will of the religious sects become synonymous with Paul’s desire for revenge, he buckles under his own fate, falling into the same savior complex and entitlement of the fascist Harkonnens that took his father’s life.

In its nearly three-hour runtime, “Dune: Part Two” offers its audience a captivating reinvigoration of Herbert’s nearly-sexagenarian book. It’s an adaptation which prompts meaningful reflection and criticism of its power structures and characters by positioning each of these themes as part of the very substance of the story. At a time where the fate of our own universe resembles much of the Known Universe in terms of environmental turmoil, religious tensions and war over material possessions, it seems more prudent than ever to promote conversations about the cost of power and the flaws in savior figures. 

Whether longtime fandom, sheer curiosity, a star-studded cast or a weird sandworm-shaped popcorn bucket brings you to the theater, “Dune: Part Two” is a story worth immersing yourself in. Villenueve’s adaptation is not only an epic adventure film, it is a deconstruction of political symbols, presented with engaging nuance. Don’t let the crazy jargon or Butler’s lack of eyebrows scare you off, because the futuristic plot can’t be told without leaning on the dynamics of the present.

 “Dune: Part Two” is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Contact Dani Biondi at [email protected].

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