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Movie review: 'Dune: Part Two' maintains high sci-fi standards

Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) returns in "Dune: Part Two." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
1 of 5 | Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) returns in "Dune: Part Two." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Dune: Part Two, in theaters March 1, drops viewers right back into the world of Dune. It is a seamless follow-up to 2021's first part, with some new additions to the tale.

Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) have been living among the Fremen -- natives of the planet Arrakis. The Harkonnen empire is still trying to raid Arrakis for the planet's valuable resource: spice.

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Action ensues quickly as the Fremen attack Harkkonen harvesting equipment in epic desert battles. Dune: Part Two doesn't spend any time catching up new viewers, as it clearly is intended for people who are following the story from Part One.

This is respectful of the Dune audience, although even having seen Dune two years ago, or recently, it is still a lot to remember. Dune: Part One already was stuffed with terminology and mythology that could require a glossary, but the stakes are clear even if one doesn't follow the nitty-gritty.

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Science-fiction that looks real has become less of a novelty since 2001 and Star Wars. What sets director Denis Villeneuve's rendition of Dune apart from the usual special effects fantasy is that it is designed more for function than appearance.

Villeneuve uses the technology not to create an animated fantasy, but to render what Dune could look like if armies and industries were operating what author Frank Herbert described.

To traverse or mine vast deserts requires heavy machinery, and the film conveys the weight of those lumbering machines. Arrakis is inhabited by sand worms, and those giant creatures, too, are lumbering beasts.

Even walking on desert sand is hard, and the actors convey the effort they're making to adapt to the environment.

In Part One, Paul dreamed of a Fremen girl, Chani (Zendaya) and only met her at the end of the film. When Part Two picks up, they are not yet in love.

Chani is still skeptical of a royal outsider, and her standoffishness makes their relationship more interesting. Paul proves himself to her in the field, aiding the Fremen and proving valuable in battle.

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Fremen leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem) believes Paul can fulfill a prophecy that will free the Fremen. Paul and Chani oppose using mythology to manipulate people, to which Stilgar essentially counters that if Paul plays his role, the prophecy will be true.

Though Herbert may have intended Paul to prove himself to be the messiah, the film leaves the accuracy of the prophecy ambiguous enough to interpret either way. Stilgar could be right or Paul just could be using the prophecy to achieve his ends.

This is still a world in which some characters employ psychic powers, so who's to say what is religion and what is physics in science-fiction?

New characters join the story, like the Emperor (Christopher Walken) above Baron Harkonen (Stellan Skarsgard). The Emperor's daughter, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) gets involved, employing psychics like Lady Margot (Léa Seydoux) to inform the empire.

The Baron makes his nephew, Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), governor of Arrakis, but really Feyd-Rautha will be the muscle to squash any rebellion.

Though they are all striking, the film can only visit new characters sporadically. It mainly stays with Paul and the Fremen.

The new characters make all of their moments count, though. Each gets a tad more screen time in this movie than Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista) gets in both movies combined.

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Dune: Part Two is the continuation of the story promised by Part One. It still tees up more story from future Herbert books, and if the quality of presentation remains this high, further adventures of Dune will be welcome.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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