Review: Dune: Part Two


With an overnight domestic gross of $32.2 million and a $97m opening weekend, it’s little wonder Dune: Part Two has captured the moviegoing world’s attention. There are many reasons to admire Dune: Part Two, but one of the main things to praise is the way Villeneuve and his team have adapted the source material from Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel. Led once again by Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides and co-starring Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, and a host of newly-introduced characters played by Florence Pugh and Austin Butler, the sequel builds on the success of its predecessor, Dune: Part One in 2021. Delving deeper into the world of Arrakis and the Fremen, it rounds off the events of Dune before its third and final film instalment in Dune: Messiah

You’ll recall from our previous pieces that there’s something of a schism within the Flixist staff related to the Dune franchise. While some would erroneously claim that the first film was underwhelming, others have suggested that it lacks anything to elevate it from the ‘mediocre’. At the time, I vehemently defended my view of the first instalment as a cinematic masterpiece, owing largely to having been armed with a knowledge of the book canon and having seen it in IMAX – as it was intended – as opposed to at home on HBO Max unlike some of us. 

It’s now been two and a half years since our interactions and the dust (or sand, if you will) has settled. We’re older, wiser, and apparently no less dissimilar in our views. With a fresh set of eyes and steering somewhat clear of hyperbole, I do still stand by my claim that this is an excellent series of films and that the second part really is worth your time and attention, if only for the way it never breaks pace and keeps you gripped throughout. This piece contains spoilers and analysis for Dune: Part Two, so please read at your discretion.

Dune: Part Two | Official Trailer 3

We pick up Dune: Part Two almost immediately at the point at which the first film ends. Paul (Timotheé Chalamet) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) follow the Fremen tribe into the desert gold mine of the planet Arrakis and home to the largest deposit of the sacred hallucinogen spice (melange), so coveted by the rest of the Imperial world. En route, they encounter Harkonnens intent on ambush (and who are quickly dispatched by the highly-skilled Fedaykin warriors, flexing their bloodlust with easy confidence.)

Entering into the world of Sietch Tabr, they discover it’s one of hundreds of such sietches, or underground civilisations, that the oppressed Fremen call home. Growing rumours of Paul’s potential supernatural-prophetic status as Kwisatz Haderach (homonym to the Jewish ‘kefitzach haderach’, meaningthe shortening of the way’) lead to tensions within the tribe, but when Lady Jessica takes on the sacred ‘Water of Life’ from the tribe and agrees to become their Holy Reverend Mother, it’s clear that they’re past the point of no return and Paul must choose to believe that this is his path: the Lisan al Gaib, the holy mother and son.

In the sietch, he spends more and more time getting to know Chani (Zendaya), and their youthful romance blossoms. The narrative between Paul and Chani is played sincerely and affectionately, and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack complements their early sequences. But while Paul learns the Fremen ways under the watchful and reverent Stilgar (Javier Bardem, brilliant as a devoted worshipper), more sinister forces are at play in the Imperial world. In this adaptation, the role of the Bene Gesserit as imperial puppet masters is dialled up, emphasising their role in the manufacture of the Lisan al Gaib and all his prophetic trappings. While they scheme their power-play by reaping the rewards of their planted prophecies, Emperor Shaddam VI (Christopher Walken) oversees the state of affairs with resolute despair. His daughter, Irulan (Florence Pugh) is one of the Bene Gesserit’s best students and faithfully notes down everything she can about the proceedings – as indeed, war is brewing – but even her diary entries that form such an integral part of the novel and precede every chapter are only part of the story.

Zendaya Dune Part Two 2024 movie still Warner Bros

Zendaya as Chani in Dune: Part Two (2024), (c) Warner Bros

The Baron’s sadistic nephew Feyd-Rautha (an unrecognisable Austin Butler) is brought to the fore in this film, in a sequence reminiscent of Gladiator (2000) that dazzles with its stark chiaroscuro cinematography. Here is a warrior who relishes bloodshed, who is everything his cousin Rabban (Dave Bautista) is not – cunning, attractive,  brutal – and who eventually steps up as the Harkonnens’ pseudo-ruler. Yet no matter his wit, he’s easily seduced by Lady Margot Fenring (Léa Seydoux), another Bene Gesserit pawn who uses her sexuality to ensure the longevity of the Bene Gesserit line – insurance, if you will, against Paul’s precarious situation. That they only introduced Margot Fenring as part of the Bene Gesserit midway through this narrative and not primarily as the wife of Count Fenring was an interesting choice too. However, there’s rarely a moment for readers of the novel to ponder this while the rest of the film hurtles forward at breakneck speed.

I wouldn’t say Dune: Part Two is an easy watch but it’s well worth the intensity. I was interested to see many important sequences from the novel cut from the film – an episode with Paul and Chani’s infant son Leto II isn’t yet alluded to, and some of the time frames have been condensed. I’m also so glad the pre-spice mass wasn’t as grim as it was in the books because I feel that wouldn’t have made great viewing. I enjoyed the depiction of Jessica’s unborn Alia – the ‘abomination’, played in a hallucinogenic sequence by Anya-Taylor Joy – and although in the book she later appears as an omniscient toddler, to the disquiet of the Fremen, it’s reassuring to see her cast as an older character of whom we can look forward to seeing more in the final film. Among the highlights of the film was the sequence in which Paul becomes a sand-rider, summoning a grandfather worm. The symbolism is both devastating and powerful, cementing his status as the Lisan al Gaib to the awe of the onlooking Fremen. 

Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha in Dune- Part Two (2024), (c) Warner Bros

Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha in Dune- Part Two (2024), (c) Warner Bros

The way the Bene Gesserit were there scheming and making plans was a great framing device and also added context to a lot of their ‘plans within plans’. It’s particularly notable how they’ve contrived the idea of the Kwisatz Haderach and spread propaganda throughout the fundamentalist southern tribes on Arrakis in order to give the Fremen hope and so control them by their faith. You really get the sense from this film that Paul walks into a self-fulfilling prophecy and that Herbert wrote this to explore the irrational nature of faith. 

The necessary but still no less unnerving Water of Life sequences were intense but somehow less disturbing than the description of the pre-spice mass hallucinogen and the subsequent enlightenments in the novel. When Jessica transforms into the Reverend Mother, this feels much darker and more permanent than in the books – sometimes, reading something and having it visualised on screen are such different experiences. I’d venture to say that the film enhanced the reading of the first novel by illuminating these sequences.

One anomaly that struck me was that it seems unusual that the elder Reverend Mother at Sietch Tabr couldn’t have foreseen that Jessica was pregnant with Alia before giving her the Water of Life. After consulting a few sources (I highly recommend the Reading Dune podcast if you’ve not listened to it yet), it seems that non-Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers cannot see into the future, and so wouldn’t have been aware of the havoc they were about to cause. Nevertheless, this is an important part of the canon and sets characters up for Dune: Messiah.

Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica in Dune: Part Two (2024), (c) Warner Bros

Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica in Dune: Part Two (2024), (c) Warner Bros

Make no mistake: the bloodshed and the violence are dialled up to 11 following the first film – this is a movie that doesn’t play around. Yet after all this, it’s good to see Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) return. A subplot where he harbours a revenge mission against Lady Jessica is nonexistent – omitted from the film to avoid it becoming oversaturated. Indeed, there’s probably another film’s worth of material in the book that hasn’t made the final cut, but no matter: we see numerous characters developed and others used to further the narrative in a way that feels all-encompassing.

Filmed on location in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, the film clearly heralds a golden age of epics such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which was released just three years before Herbert published his first novel. But this film is less of a hero’s journey and more of a war epic: it has all the darker undertones of references to Islamic jihad – Paul explicitly calls out the fundamentalism of the Southern tribes – and leans into messianic theology, displaying a darker, uglier side of faith and reverence.

Rectifying Dune’s troubled relationship with cinematic adaptations, Villeneuve’s latest feature was developed with very little consultation of Lynch’s ill-fated 1984 box office flop; Villeneuve told Empire that he encouraged his cast to read the books and treat them as gospel, rather than building on previous adaptations. Nevertheless, one inadvertent link is that Charlotte Rampling, who plays Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohain, was cast as Lady Jessica in Jodorowsky’s adaptation that never materialised. If fate and destiny seem to be the threads that run through this narrative, then they also play a part in the cinematic machine too. 

It’s difficult to succinctly capture everything about a film so vast and ambitious in scale, but suffice it to say that it’s an admirable adaptation. Certainly, some sequences that would have felt distant and unimportant in the novel are now inescapable and brutal. Characters develop, jealousies grow, and the forces of evil become much darker and more harrowing. As Paul becomes drunk on his own power, this is devastating for the fate of the universe. I can hardly fault a film so carefully crafted and that answers such big questions, while also keeping us guessing at the endgame to come in Dune: Messiah.



I can hardly fault a film so carefully crafted and that answers such big questions, while also keeping us guessing at the endgame to come in Dune: Messiah.

Sian Francis Cox
Sian is Flixist’s UK Editor and has written for sites including Escapist Magazine, Destructoid, and Film Enthusiast.