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“Dune: Part Two” Review: Timothée Chalamet Is Back in a Sequel That's Even Better Than the Original

Austin Butler and Florence Pugh — and Christopher Walken! — join the desert-planet adventure

<p>Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures</p> Chalamet with Zendaya on planet Arrakas

Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures

Chalamet with Zendaya on planet Arrakas

Dune: Part Two, once again directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) and starring Timothée Chalamet,  preserves the unusual virtues of the first film, released in 2021: It has the same monumental power of scale — the film is a stunning vision of colossal planets, space vessels and monsters — and a cool nobility of temperament that’s suitable for a regal dynasty epic.

But the 166-minute Part Two is even better, rising at the end to a stirring climax that could be called a cliffhanger — which indicates the need for a Dune: Part Three, although such a project has yet to be announced.  

Part Two will certainly make you want the story to continue. (Imagine if Star Wars had stopped at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, with Han Solo frozen forever and Luke Skywalker still reeling from unexpected daddy issues.) After enough time, you might even feel compelled to wallow into Frank Herbert’s mammoth Dune novels and digest sentences like this:

“Above all else, Muad’Dib was the kwisatz haderach which the Sisterhood’s breeding program had sought across thousands of generations.”

Related: Dune: Part Two Stars React to AMC Theaters' Viral Sandworm Popcorn Bucket: 'That's Not Okay'

Part Two is largely about the further struggles of Paul (Chalomet), scion of the once great, now kaput House of Atreides, which in Part One was wiped out in a grand tangle of hostilities involving the Emperor (Christopher Walken, new to the franchise) and the grotesque Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), who looks like a sea elephant that got caught in an oil spill.

Hiding out on a desert planet Arrakis (accent color: cinnamon), Paul has joined forces with a rebel people, the Freman, and is developing a nice if still tenuous relationship with a brave female warrior named Chani (Zendaya). Meanwhile, his mother (Rebecca Ferguson) glugs down a liquid that has the crystalline aqua-blue of a commercial mouthwash or dental rinse. In fact, it’s the Water of Life, which elevates her to a state of exalted reverence and mystical insight among the rebels. She really ups her game!

<p>Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures</p> Butler and Seydoux

Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures

Butler and Seydoux

There’s also an enjoyable nasty new villain, Feyd-Rautha, the Baron’s nephew: Played by Elvis’s Austin Butler with a bald head and toothless gums, he’s like a toxic baby. In one extraordinary segment, filmed in near-black and white, he fights a gladiatorial battle in a immense stadium that could have been designed by the galaxy's preeminent fascist architect.

The film's bounty of new characters and performers give it a heightened sense of drama that’s at once both grander and more nuanced than Part One’s. Florence Pugh, as the Emperor’s daughter, Princess Irulan, isn’t given much to do here other than wear a metallic headdress that has a certain Art Deco flair — her costume cries out for bugle beads — but she conveys a tactical intelligence and resolve that serve the princess well in the end. As Lady Margot, member of that aforementioned Sisterhood that has everything to do with Paul’s destiny and nothing to do with traveling pants, Léa Seydoux is seductive and secretive.

Related: Austin Butler on First Meeting Timothée Chalamet for Dune 2: 'Got Down to Work ... Trying to Kill Each Other'

And Walken is marvelous — querulous, petty, cruel — as the Emperor. He emits a thin hiss of neurotic energy that unexpectedly complements the film’s august seriousness. (This serves as a reminder that, despite Walken's recent BMW ad, he can be imitated, but not equaled.)

Anya Taylor-Joy shows up for a brief cameo, just long enough for her gimlet eyes to register onscreen, as a woman who'll be significant if a third Dune movie ever gets going.

The only point of concern, unfortunately, is Chalamet: His performance in Part One was both passionate and intelligent. Here it’s hard to say whether he quite grasps Paul’s emerging ruthlessness and will. Paul, in the Shakespearean manner of fantasy epics, must mature into the leader that fate demands. In the big finale, Chalamet mostly seems flustered and annoyed, like someone disappointed with his hotel accommodations. You wonder if he wasn’t better off making those Wonka chocolates. Oh, Timbo!

That much-needed third film, of course, might put those troublesome doubts to rest. No rush. But it’d be good to have.

Dune: Part Two is in theaters March 1.


      



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