erik lundegaard


Monday March 25, 2024

Movie Review: Dune: Part Two (2024)


Is Dune the text at the fulcrum of popular culture? Feels like it. It’s the midpoint of the journey of our heroic journeys.

Which go something like this. 

In David Lean’s 1962 Oscar-winning film, “Lawrence of Arabia,” a blue-eyed member of the elite goes native in a desert community and prospers; he winds up attacking his own empire and is exalted by the desert people. They chant his name.

Three years later, Frank Herbert published his novel, “Dune,” in which a member of the elite goes native and blue-eyed on a desert planet. He learns mind-control and the desert people exalt him as the long-lost messiah. They chant his name. He is deemed The One as he takes on the Empire—only to realize that he is related to his enemies.

Twelve years after that, in George Lucas’ “Star Wars,” a boy on a desert planet learns mind-control in order to take on the Empire—only to realize, mid-journey, that he is related to his enemies.

Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” movies really underline how much Herbert’s story owes to T.E. Lawrence, and how much “Star Wars” borrows from it. But the journey of our heroic journeys feels less than heroic to me. Once upon a time, our stories were grown-up and historical, rooted in life on Earth; then they gave way to childhood fantasy.

But these are good movies. This is arthouse “Star Wars.”

How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mr. Death?
My favorite moment of revenge, by the way, didn’t have anything to do with the demise of Baron Harkonnen (though the insects on his corpse were a nice touch), nor making Christopher Walken’s Emperor bow and literally kiss the ring (because, like in “Star Wars,” the Emperor was unseen in the first film and a last-minute addition to the second). No, it was when Paul used THE VOICE against the all-powerful and shrouded Rev. Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling), the seer who orchestrated most of the tragedy we’ve been watching for the past three years:

Rev. Mother: Consider what you are about to do, Paul Atreides …
[The force of the voice knocks down the Reverend Mother]
Rev. Mother: [fearfully] Abomination.

God, that was great. And maybe my reaction is indicative of the true power in this universe. It’s not with this bloated man, nor that decrepit old one, nor the young, bald psychopath. It’s with the women. The seers. The Bene Gesserit. And now a man has joined them.

“Dune: Part Two” totally worked. It’s a great story, the visuals are amazing, and while it’s long (nearly three hours) I felt like it wasn’t long enough. I felt like, to truly tell this story, you need a miniseries. Maybe we’ll get that someday. Though I do recommend watching the first movie again before you see this. Unless, of course, you already know the story. I just know it helped me.  

Hell, even with rewatching it, I missed the part where Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) survived. I thought he bit it along with Leto (Oscar Isaacs) and Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa).

So, in our last episode, the Atreideses were assigned by the Emperor to replace the Harkonnens as fiefholders on the desert planet of Arrakis, the source of “spice,” a psychotropic substance that also allows for interstellar travel. It’s as if LSD also powered automobiles, I guess. But it was less promotion than set-up. The Emperor feared Leto’s growing power and wanted him eliminated. The Harkonnens do just that. But Paul Atreides (Timothy Chalamet) and his Bene Gesserit mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), escape into the desert.

There, they meet, and are almost killed by, the native Fremen peoples, who know how to fight and survive in the desert. Jamis, the warrior, challenges Paul, Paul wins. That’s where we left off.

Now they’re going native. And as Paul goes through various rituals and adopts the name “Muad’Dib” (Desert Mouse), and his eyes keep getting bluer from the spice and he keeps outfoxing Baron Harkonnen’s inept nephew (Dave Bautista), we periodically cut to other planets, where we see:

  • Baron Harkonnen plotting ponderously amid the mudbaths designed to excrete the poison inhaled in the last movie
  • Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) journaling, and realizing that Paul Atreides may be alive, and that her father, the Emperor, caused the whole fiasco
  • The rise of the youngest Harkonnen nephew, Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), who is pale, hairless, brutish and insane

Lady Jessica also goes through rituals, drinking yadda yadda, and oh no, she shouldn’t have done that when she was pregnant! But whatevs.

Increasingly, and via Fremen leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem), amusingly, or maybe heartwarmingly, the natives think Paul is the return of the Messiah. This is particularly true in the south, which is why Paul doesn’t want to go there. Lady Jessica does. She figures, hey, nothing safer than being considered the Messiah. But Paul is disturbed by visions: millions dying in his father’s name. He doesn’t want that. Or that Paul doesn’t want that.

I’d forgotten he gets corrupted. Is that why I never finished the trilogy? The hero stopped being the hero? Watching this, I was also disappointed when Paul reunites with Gurney Halleck. I liked him alone with the Fremen.

Eventually, though, he’s forced to flee south, where for some reason he drinks the Water of Life, goes into coma, comes out of it, and now he’s less Paul than he was before. He can see the future clearer and he believes in the prophecies more. Or does he merely use them? I’m unclear. How much is calculated and how much is he buying into everything? Or maybe he should be buying into it all, since he is what he is. 

Anyway, massive forces move against each other, Paul and the Fremen overwhelm the Harkonnens and retake the planet, and Paul kills the Baron. Then he agrees to fight Feyd-Rautha, who, I don’t think, the movie played up enough. His one big battle before Paul is with three creatures in an arena, but the decks are stacked—two of them are drugged. He seems less menacing than pampered. Or he’s menacing for being pampered. Either way, he proves a tougher battle for Paul than anyone else in these movies. But he loses. 

A lot of what happens in the last hour I was confused by. Why does he demand Princess Irulan’s hand in marriage? To unite families? He’s already defeated her family. Is he trying to avoid the holy wars he sees in his visions or doesn’t he care about that anymore? Maybe he’s a big fan of journaling. 

Books of Thomas, Paul, Luke
I shouldn’t make fun. I liked it. I particularly liked Javier Bardem’s Stilgar: the crumbling of his curmudgeonly nobility as more and more he wants to believe. Chalamet is great, too, in a tough role for such a skinny malink. Zendaya works as Chandi, the Fremen guide and love interest. Lea Seydoux is in this too? What a cast. Anya Taylor-Joy even shows up in a vision as Paul’s grownup sister. Yes, like Luke, Paul has a sister. Maybe this one will prove more useful. (Sorry, Leia fans.) 

I’m interested in seeing where this goes. Maybe it goes to places the “Star Wars” movies should have but didn’t. And I’m curious how this, the outsider in the desert, the T.E. Lawrence story with superpowers, became the heroic journey of all of our voyeuristic lives. Not enough has been written about that.

Posted at 10:37 AM on Monday March 25, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2024