A combination of a journalism assignment at the Oregon Dunes and the recreational usage of psilocybin mushrooms led Frank Herbert to write “Dune,” a sprawling, five book saga. Beloved by many, they featured intergalactic warfare, giant worm-related destruction, and trenchant criticism of politics and religion. On the one hand, you’d expect that as a lifelong genre dweeb and sci-fi nerd, I would have been into these books. On the other hand, those are some seriously long-ass books.

I put off reading them, and if you know anything about me, I have some god tier procrastination skills. Years passed. I did not give the spice-filled planet of Arrakis a second thought. Then, in conversation with my friend, Kristin, that changed. You see, she’s both an English major and a fellow geek. Kindly but firmly, she insisted I read just the first of Herbert’s books. “It’s good, trust me,” she said, or words to that effect.

As it turns out, Kristin was right! I didn’t fall in love with the novel, but there was some weapons-grade strangeness at play amidst the political maneuverings and talk of jihad. It’s a classic, and I understand why that is. The book led me to Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 film adaptation Dune. That led me to Dune: Part Two, Villeneuve’s hotly anticipated sequel. Does it live up to the hype? You bet your Fedaykin ass it does.

We pick up where Dune left off, and in a power move rivaling the MCU, there’s zero attempt to bring new viewers up to speed. So, at the risk of sounding like a stroke victim, let’s dive in! Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), the daughter of Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken), dictates in her journal that Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) may yet survive. 

That’s surprising, since the Atreides clan has largely been slaughtered by House Harkonnen. You see, the Harkonnen clan is led by the sluglike Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgard) and his (for the moment) right hand Rabban (Dave Bautista). They are, not to put too fine a point on it, not nice people, and the Harkonnens are now concerning themselves with bringing the desert planet Arrakis to heel and controlling the flow of spice.

The good news for Paul is that he’s actually alive. He’s hanging out with the Fremen, what the Arrakis locals call themselves. Half of the Fremen think that Paul and his space witch mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) are more trouble than they’re worth. That includes Chani (Zendaya), a warrior who’s fifty percent sweet on Paul and fifty percent sure he’ll bring the Fremen to ruin.

That’s because Stilgar (Javier Bardem), the leader of this tribe of Fremen, is positive that Paul is an honest-to-God messiah. Maybe he is. Paul has dreams. He sees signs and portents, possible futures, disasters, and a narrow path to something he thinks of as victory. Can he achieve victory over Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), a Harkonnen psychopath and knife enthusiast? Again, it depends on how you define the concept of victory.

First, let’s clear something up. These days, there’s a nasty habit amongst filmgoers that a movie is either an offensive assault or the greatest work of cinematic art ever. The fact is, most movies fall somewhere within the Pretty Good classification. You watch them, you have a nice time, then you live your life. 

Bearing that in mind, Dune: Part Two is genuinely an epic in every sense of the word, one on the same tier as The Empire Strikes Back and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lots of studio films feel as if they’ve been designed by committee and focus-grouped to within an inch of their lives. Not here. The sweep of the arid vistas, blood and thunder, and armies clashing are fully within service of Denis Villeneuve’s vision. The canvas he paints on is enormous. It spans between planets and takes us from the back of a massive sandworm to the cozy confines of a tent. All the technical aspects, from the effects work to the costuming and set design,* work in harmony to deliver specific people during a specific time. Part Two has a two hour, forty-six minute run time. Add that to the first film and you’ve got essentially a five hour adaptation of the first book. I think that’s necessary since Villeneuve needs to set up the world, the players, and their motivations. He does so efficiently, and there were only a few moments where I was aware of the passage of time.

Is the script by Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts as sparkling as the direction? Not quite. Everyone in House Harkonnen is essentially Team Evil, and their character motivations range from, “I love conquering people” to “I love stabbing people.” The nuance is saved for our protagonists. Without getting too deep into spoiler territory,** Paul walks a path that’s the polar opposite of the hero’s journey. The script does excellent work showing his hesitation, his struggle, and the decisions he makes. It also focuses on how others react to his potential Chosen Oneness. We see Jessica spreading tales about Paul’s godhood and slowly coming to believe it herself. Along with that are interesting questions raised about politics, fanaticism, and cultural appropriation. Instead of becoming annoyingly preachy, the characters wrestle with these complex issues, and that makes them fascinating.

This is a prestige picture by Warner Brothers. Since no effort has been spared, the cast here is double-plus stacked. Everyone does strong work, but I have a life to live, so I’m not going to go into the eighteen dozen massive stars that appear in this film. Instead, let’s focus on three of them. As Stilgar, Javier Bardem plays a leader happy to cede his authority to Paul. He’ll be the rock upon which Paul builds his church, and he conducts himself with the serenity of a believer – or a fanatic. His opposite is Chani. Zendaya plays her as sensible, hard headed, exactly the wrong person to get involved in a burgeoning holy war. Their focus is Timothee Chalamet’s Paul, who has the charisma to be a leader of a movement and the intelligence to not screw it all up. We see him shift from a callow noble to a determined resistance fighter to a religious figure, and Chalamet allows us to see Paul’s struggle every step of the way.

I wouldn’t count myself as a Dune superfan. I can’t recite the lore of the Bene Gesserit, tell you the average length of a sandworm, or explain why everyone in House Harkonnen is hairless. But as I said before, I get it now. Dune: Part Two is a singular vision painted on an enormous cinematic canvas. See it on the biggest screen you can.


*Yes, sets, by God! No greenscreen void space here, only scenes shot in real places like Abu Dhabi and Budapest.

**Spoilers for a book written in 1965.

Tim has been alarmingly enthusiastic about movies ever since childhood. He grew up in Boulder and, foolishly, left Colorado to study Communications in Washington State. Making matters worse, he moved to Connecticut after meeting his too-good-for-him wife. Drawn by the Rockies and a mild climate, he triumphantly returned and settled down back in Boulder County. He's written numerous screenplays, loves hiking, and embarrassed himself in front of Samuel L. Jackson. True story.