Review Roundup: Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two

Critics respond to the second installment in Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic.
Dune 2 Cast Collage

With its stunning visuals, rich production design, and stellar cast, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (2021) was an epic sci-fi tale par excellence. And even better, it was just the first part of the story; there’s even more to come, as Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), still reeling from his father’s death and his family’s destruction, grows closer to the Fremen freedom fighters, and in particular, a woman named Chani (Zendaya). Meanwhile, the brutal House Harkonnen are planning to ravage the planet Arrakis and, with the blessing of the galaxy’s emperor, finish off Paul once and for all.

The original Dune was one of 2021’s most acclaimed films, winning six Oscars (including best original score, best cinematography, and best visual effects), five British Academy Film Awards, and three Critics’ Choice Movie Awards — to name just a few accolades. It was also a box office hit, earning over $400 million. So… does the second Dune live up to the promise of its predecessor’s grandiose and epic scale? Is there a good chance that there could be a third Dune movie? Or does Dune: Part Two fail to deliver?

Read on to see what critics are saying.

Kaitlyn Booth, Yet another one of those movie miracles”

Dune: Part Two only stumbles in ways that hardly count, but with Villeneuve expertly guiding a truly talented ensemble cast, it all ultimately comes together. There is no denying the pacing and structure issues that come with this being half a movie, but it also feels massive because Villeneuve was given two films to adapt this massive book. There were so many places all of this could have gone wrong, and the fact that it mostly went right is yet another one of those movie miracles. Villeneuve and his two Dune films join the ranks of Peter Jackson and the Lord of the Rings as one of those adaptations where, somehow, source material older than most people who are seeing the film still feels new.

Hoai-Tran Bui, The best sci-fi epic of the century”

Dune: Part One was, in many ways, the antiblockbuster. It’s a movie that began at the end — at the end of a centuries-long secret battle between noble houses we only see glimpses of and amid a sea of change that we can’t even begin to understand. There was no emotional anchor because most of the characters were doomed from the moment we met them and no catharsis because the story wasn’t really over. It’s an incredibly ballsy way to start a sci-fi franchise, and Dune: Part Two, Denis Villeneuve’s electrifying, stupendously action-packed sequel, is no less bold. But while it would be easy (and cliche) to say that Dune: Part Two delivers on everything the first film built up — and more! — the film is more than the sum of its jaw-dropping spectacle and rousing battle scenes.

Walter Chaw, Gorgeously filmed and prodigiously imagined”

It is an epically-scaled tentpole from a major studio spending millions of dollars to tell the story of a messianic leader with vengeance on his lips who pulls his power from fundamentalists manipulated by his mother’s cult to bring about genocide, famine, death, and war.

David Crow, A bleak and brilliant masterpiece”

That such an uncompromising vision could be made as a modern blockbuster, and that something so ultimately chilling (even with all that sun) will be embraced by a global audience, is fascinating. This is the kind of monumental moviemaking that has beguiled audiences since the dawn of cinema, but Villeneuve has spiced his vintage with a madness befitting Paul, the voice from the outer world.

David Ehrlich, Staggering to look at but agonizing to watch”

Once again, the biblical solemnity of Villeneuve’s approach — along with the tactile brutalism of his design — have combined into a Timothée Chalamet movie that shimmers with the patina of an epic myth. And once again, the awesome spectacle that Villeneuve mines from all that scenery is betrayed by the smallness of the human drama he stages against it, with the majesty of the movie’s first hour desiccating into the stuff of pure tedium as Paul Atreides struggles to find his voice amid the visions that compel him forward. It’s a struggle that Dune: Part Two continues to embody all too well.

Austen Goslin, A fantastic, surprisingly complex blockbuster”

The first movie, publicly billed as Dune and revealed as Dune: Part One only in the credits, handled the world-building and all the expositional heavy lifting. It all came with the understanding that the conclusion could be an all-killer, no-filler science fiction epic. And that’s exactly what Dune: Part Two delivers.

Clarisse Loughrey, Like no other blockbuster in existence”

There are moments in Dune: Part Two that feel so audacious, they play out as if they were already etched onto the cinematic canon. A lone figure stands astride a mountainous worm as it pummels through the sand like Moses parting the Red Sea. A man is trapped by a psychic seduction, its effects splintering across the screen in what could only be described as an indoor thunderstorm. Gladiatorial combat takes place on a planet with an environment so inhospitable, its colours so drained, that it looks almost like a photographic negative.

Germain Lussier, Blows away your sandworm-sized expectations”

Dune: Part Two is more than a mere sequel. It’s a continuation, culmination, and ultimately a fantastic elevation of everything you already loved about director Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 film Dune: Part One. That film ended with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) embracing a new way of life after almost everyone he loved was massacred. Here, after a brief interlude, things pick up right where they left off and weave a sweeping, cautionary tale of a young man burdened by destiny and how he’ll act to fulfill it. The film is dense and complex but also majestic and engaging on a level the first film merely touched upon.

Liz Shannon Miller, Weirder, wilder, and crying out for a sequel”

The true hero of the Dune films, though, is costume designer Jacqueline West, whose work here features some breathtaking pieces of craftsmanship (like, as one example, literally everything worn by Florence Pugh’s space princess). More importantly, West’s attention to detail gives a grounded feel to everything worn on screen, especially the various types of suits worn to survive on Arrakis, hard-selling the audience on the idea that everything is real. Dune could easily feel like over-the-top costume drama, but the costumes being so damn good is somehow, paradoxically, why it doesn’t.

Nick Newman, Sands down the strangeness of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic”

This is less a movie that feels incomplete than one that has achieved its questionable goals – – a diligent follow to a diligent adaptation, a brilliant build upon a brilliant physical manifestation. By my count, though, that makes two projects – – maybe, possibly a bit hack to lean on this point, but just for the sake of context: about $300 million – – spent in debt to another’s work or promise of some other film. A strange instinct for notoriously burdensome material. Myriad allusions to Dune Messiah, Villeneuve’s promised adaptation of Herbert’s far smaller follow-up, are promising: flashforward images are stark, and Part Two’s climax finds its actors already selling the pieces set in motion. I can’t pretend I don’t want to see it, that it won’t look and sound great. But enthusiasm’s turning a tad dry.

Rodrigo Perez, A darker, devastating blockbuster”

Villeneuve’s escalating sense of scale and emotional stakes are enormous, his craft impeccable, and the film’s visceral intensity radiates and growls like a raging supernova star about to implode; imagine if one were to mash Lawrence of Arabia and LOTR’s Twin Towers together into an unholy mystical sci-fi alliance. Verging on overwrought at times, Villeneuve manages to ride the sandworm lightning beyond the thundering abyss that always seems to be on each side of his stunning creations (and those sandworm scenes are jaw-dropping and gargantuan). Reminiscent of the way Zack Snyder always goes maximum-effort operatic, but with a sense of discerning taste, Villeneuve’s film is ultimately awe-inspiring and an immersive cinematic spectacle that is often breathtaking.

Brian Tallerico, A robust piece of filmmaking”

Dune: Part Two has been compared to The Empire Strikes Back in the run-up to its release, and that’s not quite right. The better comparison is The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, another film that built on what we knew about the characters from the first film, added a few new ones, and really amplified a sense of continuous battle and danger. Like both films, a third chapter feels inevitable. Critics will have to come up with a new synonym for massive.

Dune: Part Two arrives in theaters on March 1, 2024. Watch the trailer below.

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