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Mar 04, 2024 01:00PM ● By Jenniffer Wardell

It turns out Hollywood hasn’t completely forgotten how to make fantastic, genuinely epic space movies.

“Dune: Part Two” is an incredible, edge-of-your-seat experience that does everything the recent “Star Wars” movies haven’t. It’s massive in scope, but filled with a ton of more intimate character moments. It’s got great action scenes and large-scale political implications. It’ll make you cheer and break your heart. And, since “Dune” is going to be a three-part series, it’s not even done yet.

When we last left Paul Atreides, he and his mother escaped to the desert after House Harkonnen murdered the rest of their people. They were found by the Fremen, the desert dwellers native to the planet, and “Part Two” explores Paul slowly becoming a member of the Fremen people. He and the Fremen wage war against the Harkonnens, while at the same time wrestling with carefully planted prophecies that make him seem like a long-awaited savior of the people.  

All of this seems impossibly large, but Denis Villeneuve, Jon Spaights, and an amazing cast make sure it comes across as amazingly personal. Years of political machinations come to life in the relationship between a mother and son, between a man and the woman he loves. World-changing decisions manifest in one-on-one battles, the camera and cast always careful to let you feel everyone’s hope and fear. A newly introduced villain is terrifying not because the script says so, but because you want to back away when you look into his eyes.

Timothée Chalamet is fantastic as Paul, sad and sweet but with enough determination that his growing leadership is no surprise. Rebecca Ferguson is even better as his mother, who loves her son but may prove to be a profound danger to him. Zendaya absolutely kills the expanded role of Chani, a warrior and voice for her people who is battling prophecy as much as the Harkonnens.

Javier Bardem not only brings humor and gravitas to his role as Stilgar, but a personal heft to the movie’s larger questions of faith. Austin Butler is deeply unsettling as the Harkonnen heir, crafting a character who only needs a closeup to be utterly chilling. Florence Pugh doesn’t get as much screen time as the Emperor’s daughter, but she does enough with it that I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in part three.

The movie tries to keep itself as self-contained as possible, but it’s still very much only the middle of a much larger saga. You get the sense that Villeneuve is actually making a nine-hour film he’s smuggling out a piece at a time, and watching “Dune: Part One” is essential for getting the most out of this one. One day, people will be doing day-long marathons of the “Dune” trilogy the same way they currently do “The Lord of the Rings” movies.

The ending is technically a cliffhanger, but mostly because of the overwhelming sense of unfinished stories. The movie makes a few small but significant tweaks that means the next movie will cover different ground than the books, and I for one am very excited to see where this particular epic is going next.

Grade: Four stars

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