Dune: Part Two sees Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya getting dark and dusty as they head into all-out war

Dune: Part Two sees Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya getting dark and dusty as they head into all-out war

By abc.net.au
Friday 01/03/2024
Timothée Chalamet plays the boy prince, Paul Atreides.(Supplied: Warner Bros/Niko Tavernise)

Timothée Chalamet might be the messiah — or just a very naughty boy.

The conflict between destiny and rebellion, between religion and humanism, is the dark, unresolved heart of Dune: Part Two — the latest chapter in Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of Frank Herbert's epic space opera.

Like the mighty sandworms that thunder across its desert vistas, the Canadian filmmaker's tale of feuding dynasties, rapacious colonialism and meddling witches is colossal in scope.

It's a commanding slab of image-making, with its sights trained on dismantling the hero myth.

If this studious, spectacular shot at Herbert's saga can't always reconcile its warring impulses — to dazzle and critique in equal measure — then it's all part of the package, if not the point.

Picking up right where its stately predecessor left off, Part Two finds the spice-rich desert planet Arrakis in the grip of the invading Harkonnens, villainous warlords who wiped out their rivals, the noble House Atreides, in a power play orchestrated by the galactic Emperor (Christopher Walken).

Abandoned on Arrakis in the wake of the massacre, Atreides' boy prince — and possible cosmic messiah — Paul (Chalamet) has been provided sanctuary by the planet's besieged natives, the Fremen, along with his pregnant mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson).

Haunted by visions of death, Paul is determined to reject his lineage and lead the indigenous people to a rebellion, to destroy the Harkonnen's spice mining operation and exact revenge for the death of his father.

But Jessica — who belongs to the bloodline-tinkering witches known as the Bene Gesserit — is set on seeing her son fulfil his messianic destiny.

"You will see. The beauty and the horror," Jessica tells Paul — and she's not just referring to the movie's infamous promo popcorn bucket.

Led by the loyal but naive Stilgar (Javier Bardem), many of the Fremen believe Paul to be their saviour — but others consider him a fraud, and the prophecy a lie.

"You want to control people? You tell them the messiah will come," snaps the defiant Fremen warrior, Chani (Zendaya).

The Harkonnens, meanwhile, are intent on crushing the Fremen and flushing out their mysterious new champion. They dispatch the sadistic Feyd-Rautha (a wonderfully sneering Austin Butler) to menace Arrakis — and set the stage for all-out war.

Much like the opening chapter, Dune: Part Two proves Villeneuve is in a class — or at least a budget — of his own when it comes to crafting super-scale images.

Boosted by Hans Zimmer's bone-rattling score, the film has a daunting, Biblical scope that dwarfs the screen and subdues the senses.

Looming large over the desert, the Emperor's command ship might as well be the Las Vegas Sphere, with Walken rocking a 70s cult leader fit and Florence Pugh, as the imperial Princess Irulan, looking like she's on her way to Studio 54. (Walken's unmistakable syntax – "How would. You deal. With. This prophet?" the Emperor wonders at one point – gives the movie some much-needed, if unintentional, laughs.)

Still, Villeneuve's images are often at their best when they're simple: a close-up of Chalamet's hand; the rising and falling of the metronomic "thumper" used to attract sandworms; or Paul and Chani's kiss atop a dune, the kind of star-crossed moment that all but screams out for a big power ballad.

(Alas, save for a fleeting scene with a slinky Léa Seydoux, the movie's not big on the erotic, nor the strange. Unlike David Lynch's unfairly maligned version, the novel's psychic power continues to elude Villeneuve's drier sensibility.)

In the movie's most exhilarating action sequence, we get a sense of the rush of Paul's first sandworm ride — like we're watching an extreme sports body-cam — and it's pretty cool.

As impressive as all of that is — and it really is something — Dune: Part Two sometimes struggles to match its images with human drama. Nor does it manage to reconcile them with the thornier complexity of the novel.

Foreshadowing Herbert's Dune: Messiah (and teasing a third movie), Villeneuve and his returning co-screenwriter Jon Spaihts lean hard into Paul's identity crisis.

Even if he doesn't believe he's the messiah, might he pretend to be one anyway, for the sake of inspiring the people?

The conflict rouses Chalamet, who seems to relish the dark side. His battle with the Machiavellian eugenicists of the Bene Gesserit — led again by Charlotte Rampling's sinister Reverend Mother — provides some of the film's best moments. (That said, the decision to relegate Paul's telepathic sister, Alia — a cameoing Anya Taylor-Joy — to a flash-forward moment, tinkers with the novel in ways that deny the film of one its most delirious pay-offs.)

Whether the movie is effective in teasing out Dune's analogy for the Middle East — and its interrogation of imperialism — is another matter.

Villeneuve is so committed to his stentorian craft, and his images so overpowering, that you wonder whether the film's ability to question its heroism isn't smothered by all the spectacle.

Either way, it makes for a fascinating contradiction.

Story By: ABC Entertainment / By Luke Goodsell

Original story link: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-02-29/dune-part-two-review-timothee-chalamet-zendaya-denis-villeneuve/103515922

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