Dune: Part Two movie review – Denis Villeneuve spent most of the first part establishing the world, characters, and moral conflict of the story adapted from Frank Herbert’s 1965 epic science fiction novel. Gladly, its follow-up moves far more swiftly than. With most of the groundwork already done, Dune: Part Two could’ve dared harder. But like its protagonist, the movie also keeps dreaming more than daring.

Dune: Part Two movie review -- Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya's love story is the beating heart of this film
Dune: Part Two movie review — Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya’s love story is the beating heart of this film

(Also Read: Dune Part Two box office prediction: Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya-starrer expected to make $80 million in first weekend)

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Harnessing the desert power

Dune: Part 2 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 One, 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 by many folds.

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. Paul claims he’d like to be treated equal to her (which in today’s world, would be the most romantic thing a man can say to a woman). They then exchange their waters (by kissing).

Eclipsed by its own loftiness

These are distinctly brilliant scenes, but they’re far and few in this 2-hour-46-minute saga. Besides a few well-choreographed action scenes, most of Dune: Part Two 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. 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. 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 anyway?

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 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 delicious, 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, but they’re more interested in foreplay than climax.

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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