“Dune: Part 2”: Is this the new cinema messiah?

On February 29th, the sequel to "Dune" finally starts in this country, in which the second half of Frank Herbert's (1920-1986) opening novel "The Desert Planet" (1965) is told.

“Dune: Part 2”: Is this the new cinema messiah?

On February 29th, the sequel to "Dune" finally starts in this country, in which the second half of Frank Herbert's (1920-1986) opening novel "The Desert Planet" (1965) is told. That wasn't a given at first: When "Dune" hit cinemas around the world in 2021, the future of the potential sci-fi franchise was hanging by a thread. Only when it became apparent that the complex film by Denis Villeneuve (56) would post solid numbers despite the end of the corona pandemic was the second part given the green light.

Luckily, the cinema would otherwise have been denied a film that would show us its inherent raison d'être in times of endless streaming offerings. “Dune: Part 2” is optical opulence that benefits massively from the hard work of its predecessor - and knows how to skilfully navigate around some narrative minefields.

"Dune: Part 2" picks up directly after the events of its predecessor: Shortly after arriving on the harsh desert planet Arrakis, the young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet, 28) witnessed an intrigue of galactic proportions: the entire House of Atreides is on the move slaughtered in a plot by the Emperor (Christopher Walken, 80) and the barbaric Harkonnen. Only Paul and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson, 40) seem to have escaped the bloodbath that originated in the fight over the powerful and lucrative drug Spice.

Their situation is hardly better: they were taken in by a group of local Fremen in the middle of the deadly desert. However, most of the natives are highly skeptical of the supposed invaders and would prefer to throw them to the giant sandworms. They find an ally in, of all people, Fremen leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem, 54), who sees in Paul the incarnation of the Mahdi - a messianic savior. Paul himself, however, initially only has one thing driving him: he wants to take revenge on Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård, 72) and his followers. His luck: Even on Arrakis, nothing brings people together like a common enemy...

When the end credits of “Dune” rolled across the screen around three years ago, it caused more than just a storm of cheers. After all, the start of the sci-fi series, which was now planned as a trilogy, actually ended quite anticlimactically and exactly at a point in time when the story was picking up speed. The sequel benefits even more from the hard work of the opening film: "Dune" took care to give viewers the incredibly complex sci-fi world that author Frank Herbert conceived around 60 years ago. “Dune: Part 2” is now reaping the benefits and retroactively removing some of the criticisms that were raised about part one.

This is certainly not a given. The second part of a film trilogy ultimately has the thankless task of linking the start with the big finale. If this fails, the middle film seems like a mere means to an end that unnecessarily drags out the ending. If it succeeds, however, the golden mean often matures into the best part of the entire trilogy. This was the case with "The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers", as was the case with the original trilogy of "Star Wars", and things are currently happening on the desert planet. "Dune: Part 2" can already be given a huge seal of approval - it has become "The Empire Strikes Back" of the new millennium.

This is not just because, after the detailed exposition in part one, it goes quickly from the first to the last of the approximately 170 minutes. “Dune: Part 2” also allows itself quiet moments, thanks to which the roar of battle really comes into its own. Villeneuve and his team also manage to top the visual opulence of its predecessor. "Dune: Part 2" can be paused at any second - the still image would make an excellent poster. There won't be a more beautiful film that skillfully creates immersion with visually stunning visuals this year and probably for many years to come.

After tackling real-life themes like "Prisoners" and "Sicario," Villeneuve is increasingly making a name for himself as a talented sci-fi director. This was shown in his film "Arrival" from 2016, and the following year with "Blade Runner 2049" he pulled off a feat that was not thought possible - a worthy successor to Ridley Scott's (86) masterpiece from 1982. "Dune" connects with the latter film: Part 2" is very similar, albeit with exactly the opposite sign.

It is the question and the search for purpose. Herbert's novel and with it Villeneuve's film deal with a form of the mythical hero's journey that was not new in 1965 - just think of the Arthurian legend. In general, "Dune" presents the Middle Ages of the future: instead of mountains and oceans, light years of empty space separate imperialism supported by superstition.

The fact that Paul Atreides, a member of the ruling class, becomes the savior of the oppressed masses is a problematic narrative. But “Dune” manages to show in a clever way how the myth of the savior, cultivated over centuries, ensured that the population of the desert planet was subjugated in the first place. It may be true: "Whoever controls the spice controls the universe." However, "Dune: Part 2" suggests how religious manipulation behind the scenes determines who is ultimately in charge.

Ryan Gosling's (43) character in "Blade Runner 2049" was literally implanted with the idea that he was the savior. In “Dune,” the main character himself has the most doubts about his supposed destiny and initially actively defends himself against it. However, this has long since taken on features that make it a self-fulfilling prophecy: A prophet who does not see himself as a prophet? This form of humility can only be possessed by a true prophet, according to Fremen leader Stilgar.

Lead actor Timothée Chalamet is able to skillfully combine the mixture of desire for revenge, unwanted hero worship, mourning for fallen friends and love for new allies. Just like Rebecca Ferguson, his acting also suggests that there is a fine line before noble intentions can turn into opportunistic manipulation. In short: Paul Atreides is given a complex variety of facets in “Dune: Part 2”.

The exact opposite is the case with the new major villain Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. In David Lynch's (78) film adaptation from 1984, Sting (72) took on the role - and his iconic space speedo. In the new edition, it is "Elvis" actor Austin Butler (32) who is allowed to show his worst side - he does this with thieving joy and better dressed than Sting, but completely shaved.

If there's something to complain about in "Dune: Part 2", it's the character art of the villains. Their diabolism sometimes takes on almost satirical traits. Every aspect of Harkonnen culture is thoroughly reprehensible. Apparently not even color pigments dare to go outside on their home planet. This may be in keeping with the original book, but from today's perspective it seems unusually striking.

Especially since Villeneuve offers the same unnecessary attack surface as he did in “Blade Runner 2049”: Here too, he exaggerated the cunning of his villain, played by Jared Leto (52). In both works, however, this flaw cannot change the basic quality. “Dune: Part 2” isn’t just made for the cinema either. It's cinema.

Anyone who misses “Dune: Part 2” will immediately miss out on what is probably the most beautiful film of the year. It offers a visual splendor that completely captivates and allows the almost three hours of running time to pass faster than you can say "Sandwurm!" can call.