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Dune: Part Two

it is exhilarating to find a film-maker thinking as big as this

★★★★ - THE GUARDIAN 

- Second half of hallucinatory sci-fi epic is staggering spectacle - 

The second part of Denis Villeneuve’s monumental Dune adaptation lands with a sternum-juddering crash; it’s another shroom of a film, an epic sci-fi hallucination whose images speak of fascism and imperialism, of guerrilla resistance and romance. Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel – working with co-writer Jon Spaihts – draws on David Lean, George Lucas and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator in the (perhaps inevitable) mega-stadium combat scene with the tiny billions of CGI crowds in the bleachers. But he really has made it all his own: secular political cruelty meets Indigenous people’s struggle in those vast mysterious planetscapes. The sound design throbs and drones in this film’s bloodstream, lending a queasy frisson to its extraordinary visual spectacle and the recurrent horror-fetish BDSM chic which appears to govern so much intergalactic-wrongdoer style.

My only reservation is that some of the momentum that the first part had built up has been lost since that movie was released more than two years ago. Those outside the existing Dune fanbase could feel that the ending does not deliver the resounding closure to which we all might, maybe naively, consider ourselves entitled to at the end of 330 minutes total screen time. And the final eventful moments of the film feel a bit rushed, as if Shakespeare had decided to shrink Henry VI Part III into a zappy coda to go at the end of Part II.

None of that damages the film’s flair and staggering display. We begin with another extraordinary and surreal desert-battle scene with the invented technological detail that is so commanding and distinctly scary, as if we are witnessing a posthuman evolutionary development. The signature design touches are presented with absolute confidence; in any other film, those black nasal tubes would look odd, especially when the two leads are expected to kiss while wearing them. Here you accept it.

We are on the planet Arrakis, with its hugely lucrative mineral resource of Spice, under the hideously corrupt Harkonnen rule, having brought off a duplicitous coup against the Atreides family, to whom the emperor had assigned administration rights. The Harkonnens are the gruesome Baron (Stellan Skarsgård) and his creepy nephews Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista) and the even creepier Feyd-Rautha, played by Austin Butler. The charismatic Paul (Timothée Chalamet) is still gallantly fighting with the Fremen insurgency, in love with Chani (Zendaya) and considered by warrior Stilgar (Javier Bardem) to be their messiah. But Paul’s mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), part of the occult Bene Gesserit sisterhood, is with him also, taking her own place in the Fremen power structure. A great reckoning between the Fremen and the Harkonnen is approaching, and between Paul and the Emperor and his daughter Princess Irulan; these latter are slightly perfunctory roles for Christopher Walken and Florence Pugh.

It’s a panorama of shimmering strangeness, now expanded to include a bigger cast, with Léa Seydoux on classically feline and insinuating form as the Bene Gesserit initiate Lady Margot Fenring and a tiny, almost subliminal cameo for Anya Taylor-Joy. As before, the second Dune film is superb at showing us an entire created world, a distinct and now unmistakable universe, which will probably be much imitated: a triumph for cinematographer Greig Fraser and production designer Patrice Vermette. Hans Zimmer’s score provides exactly the right tone, at once plangent and grandiose.

Villeneuve shows such ambition and boldness here, and a real film-making language. But I can’t help feeling now, at the very end, that though it’s impossible to imagine anyone doing Dune better – or in any other way – somehow he hasn’t totally got his arms around the actual story in the one giant, self-contained movie in the way he got them around his amazing Blade Runner 2049. There’s no doubt that Chalamet carries a romantic action lead with great style, even though there is so much going on, with so many other characters, that his heroism and romance with Chani is decentred. But this is a real epic and it is exhilarating to find a film-maker thinking as big as this.

- Peter Bradshaw, THE GUARDIAN

Dune: Part Two is now playing at Light House Cinema! 

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