Director: Denis Villeneuve Screenwriter: Denis Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Léa Seydoux, Souheila Yacoub, Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, Javier Bardem Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Running Time: 167 min. MPAA: PG-13

The thought had crossed my mind to reread Dune before venturing into Part 2. Before the first film debuted in 2021, I flipped open my copy, fired up an audiobook, and skimmed some clips from the David Lynch 1984 film adaptation. But before deciding to refresh on Frank Herbert’s classic tale, I recalled a major criticism of the 1984 film, that fantasy films like this should be an escape and not homework. Denis Villeneuve directed the first part of Dune as if it were an escape, where another world appeared on the big screen. With my faith in the director realized, I placed more trust in Part 2 by coming in without a refresh. Like clockwork, Villeneuve’s sequel is just as epic and mesmerizing as it was a few years ago.

With the desert planet of Arrakis firmly established, there’s more time to explore the cerebral visions and bitter rage within Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet). With his father murdered and his House Atreides decimated by the invading House Harkonnen, he retreats with his pregnant mother, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), into the land of the Fremen. It’s an alliance that can be formed so long as the witchcraft of the Bene Gesserit within Jessica aligns with the Fremen prophecies of a messiah, instigated and pushed by the devout Fremen leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem).

Torn between her love of Paul and his darker nature appealing to fundamentalism is the Freman Chani (Zendaya), the literal woman of his dreams about the future. With Chani now in the present, they form a bond, considering that Chani doesn’t believe in people’s old ways of her people and can more naturally relate to an outsider. Their connection is strong until Paul engrossed himself deeper within the merging of Freman legends and Bene Gesserit magic. Paul and Chani may come together as entwined souls by the middle of the film, but they soon pass as Paul ascends to messiah levels while the zealots drown out Chani’s voice of descent.

Opposing the Freman and trying to squash their rule over their home planet is the evil House Harkonnen, showcased more with the stark contrast of their eerie planet and the many grotesque details of the floating Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgård). The short-fused Rabban (Dave Bautista) has failed to stop the Freman sabotaging of spice-mining operations, leading to the younger and more violent Feyd (Austin Butler) taking control. The string-pulling Padishah Emperor (Christopher Walken) observes with quiet calculation from his paradise of a planet. At the same time, his daughter, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), records the events with contained shock.

Although the second film maintains a firmer focus on the book’s central themes, it’s also far more grand in scale. The first film promised a war of Freman warriors storming the gates of the Harkonnen stronghold on Arrakis, and the sequel keeps that promise. Even before the expected climax, there are several eye-popping shots of Freman taking out the towering spice crawlers, risking their lives as Harkonnen choppers obliterate the rebels who take cover in the gears and legs of the crawler. Even the moments without war, such as when Jessica learns of the inner sanctums of the Freman, are mesmerizing sights to behold.

Villeneuve has this uncanny ability to trap the viewer within sci-fi worlds and make them feel real with the commitment to world-building and ambiance. It’s one thing to be faithful to the book, but it’s another to make its sci-fi appeal stick. Concepts of the weird walk not to attract the worms, the drug-like nature of the Water of Life, and the riding of giant worms could easily fall apart if the director doesn’t have the heart to embrace the weird. Villeneuve commits to this fiction with diligent respect and imaginative staging. The crucial scene of Paul riding a worm for the first time through the sand could be where many would want to get off this ride. I stayed to watch the rest of the novel unfold beautifully on the big screen.

Dune: Part 2 finishes the first book’s adaptation with magnificent wonder, intelligence, and thrilling action. It’s rare to see a sci-fi film like this that fully transports the viewer to another world, making me question what planet I was on when I left the theater in the same way I did with exiting Blade Runner 2049. Some science fiction films feel like they have to settle between being a vivid IMAX experience or a hard dose of compelling writing with aspects of human nature and politics. This version of Dune is the film that harbors both, able to have its spicy cake and eat it, too.

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