Video Credit: Virendra Saklani

Director Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 operatic and dense sci-fi spectacle ‘Dune’ was just scratching the sandy surface, or so you feel when you watch its sweeping second installment, out in UAE cinemas on February 29.

‘Dune: Part 2’, shot partly in Abu Dhabi’s scenic Empty Quarter, is a stunning piece of sci-fi adventure and isn’t as meditative as its first part, opting for a more propulsive pace.

Central characters like the noble reluctant leader Paul Atreides (an on-point and toughened-up Timothée Chalamet) and desert nomad Chani (an alluring Zendaya) are given ample room to slide seamlessly into our collective imagination.

zendaya dune two
Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya in a scene from 'Dune: Part 2' Image Credit: AP/WARNER BROS

Chalamet’s character has truly come of age as he plots revenge against those who massacred his family with the help of the toughened Fremen desert people. He’s lost that coltish quality seen in the first chapter and exudes a quiet warrior vibe.

It’s safe to say that Villeneuve has successfully distilled one of the most un-filmable stories in the science fiction canon, author Frank Herbert’s iconic 1965 sci-fi tome, into a palatable-yet-sprawling fantasy adventure that could even rival ‘Game Of Thrones’ and ‘The Lord Of The Rings’. ‘Dune: Part 2’ transports you into a world of folklore, mythology, and futuristic warfare that is still relevant in today’s times. 

If you strip away the overarching sci-fi trappings, you realise that this ambitious franchise -- which must be seen ideally on IMAX screens -- is a coming-of-age story set on a distant planet in the future and their valiant fight for spices, the precious currency that propels intergalactic domination.

Character Dynamics

A determined Atreides unites with the far more liberated Fremen tribe of the desert planet Arrakis to wage war against their common enemy House Harkonnen.

Even if you are not a fantasy fanatic (guilty, as charged), this awe-inducing epic works because it doesn’t just focus on giving us a spectacular-looking film but dares to dive deep into the characters tapping into their vulnerabilities and their strengths. The scene in which Chalamet's character battles prophetic dreams and Zendaya's character takes him under her wings are stirring. In contrast to the arid desert around them, their feelings are far from barren and stark.

'Dune: Part 2' is as much a doomed romance as it's a wildly escapist fare. 

Complicated themes such as -- is fate stronger than free will, the intricacies of faith, and fight for the control of spice -- a psychedelic mineral that grants its users supernatural abilities found exclusively on Arrakis -- are explored with a hawkish eye, but it’s the relationships and its varying shades of closeness that had my heart. No character is simply black or white. They revel in different shades of brown and just like the sand around them, it's impossible to capture them in your hand or slot them into categories of good and evil.

In the first half, Chani and Atreides’s young romance, their palpable mutual attraction and that impending doom of how their love has only a slim chance of making it in their futuristic world are explored with a wild sense of abandon. The scenes where a hapless-yet-clinical Paul – perched always as this ultimate savior of his own people -- is forced to make choices that go beyond his personal fixations is tragic and touching.

Zendaya -- who has a lot more to do in the second installment and is fortunately given more lines in the second innings -- and Chalamet have enough chemistry to make us root for them, against all odds. Their complex relationship dynamics don’t get lost in translation nor is it drowned in the din of creating a larger-than-life film that aims to impress visually. There are many scenes that are undoubtedly awe-inspiring and the grand austerity in the serene-but-sometimes brutal desert-scape will impress, but it’s the human dynamics and feuds that are compelling.

Chalamet’s turbulent relationship with his heavily pregnant mother Lady Jessica Atreide (Rebecca Ferguson) and her dogged determination to remind her son of how his duties bind him is a keen examination of mother-son power dynamics. Their borderline exploitative power-play is palpable.

Plus, there’s something in it for everybody. Actors Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, and Stellan Skarsgård also pull in their weight. 

Newcomer to the world of ‘Dune’, Florence Pugh as the Emperor’s daughter Princess Irulan’, leaves a lasting impression.

Timothee Chalamet and Josh Brolin in 'Dune: Part 2'
Timothee Chalamet and Josh Brolin in 'Dune: Part 2' Image Credit: IMdB

But this saga is not just about the frail and often transactional bonds in a feudalistic set-up.

Climactic showdown:

If you are craving action, the climactic showdown between Atreides and Feyd Rautha (Austin Butler, the new entrant to the Dune landscape) is a showman-like spectacle of sorts. And did I tell you the scenes in which the strapping young Chalamet rides the sandworm are oddly satisfying to watch. The speed, the urgency, the craziness of it all is communicated with aplomb. It’s not just the heroes that impress, the villains are equally convincing.

Dave Bautista as the evil–incarnate Harkonnen thug Beast Rabban also gets to flex his brooding looks and muscles a lot more in the second film. Brolin, who returns as Gurney Halleck – the mentor and advisor to Atreides, seems to have stepped out of his comfort zone and doesn’t shy away from breaking into a sweat.

The surprise package of this cinematic marvel was Butler’s turn as the psychotic Feyd Rautha. His portrayal famously lived up to director Villeneuve’s description as “a cross between a sword master and Mick Jagger”. His snake-like movements and razor-sharp wit land smooth.

So, if you are looking for an emotionally-charged sci-fi adventure that focuses on characters and their motives, then ‘Dune: Part 2’ delivers on all fronts. Even if you are not a fan of the fantasy or sci-fi genre, this film can still enchant.

Gulf News rating:
Film: Dune: Part 2
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Austin Butler, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson
Star: 4 out of 5