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Sand Storm: “Dune: Part Two” reviewed

In the elevated surroundings of futuristic Los Angeles and the planets of Caladan, Giedi Prime, and Arrakis, Villeneuve’s lofty concepts thrillingly found a home. And while one might think the spectacle of Dune: Part One would increase on the way to a big climax in the continuation of his Frank Herbert adaptation, with the exception of a few slick sci-fi images, Part Two may as well take place in near-future Albuquerque.

Tonally inconsistent, this second chapter rarely feels like a Villeneuve film — even the aforementioned visually sharp narrative misfires. Minimal distinguishable style is evident in the film’s excruciatingly long opening stretch with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) entrenched with the indigenous Fremen on the desert planet Arrakis. And the random point at which the narrative resumes makes the already awkward end of Part One feel doubly arbitrary.

Though doubts remain among the native people regarding his and Jessica’s presence, Paul has suddenly been “accepted” by most of the Fremen, resulting in a cringey, folksy familiarity with them. And the way he and love interest Chani (Zendaya) wear each other down with their mutually long flirty looks grows old fast, especially with little evidence to support her attraction to him. The two actors have been stellar in plenty of other films, but it’s doubtful that any pair of performers could convincingly pull off this weak romantic material.

The distinct change in narrative quality may or may not be due to Part One co-scribe Eric Roth being dropped from the screenwriting team as, in his absence, Villeneuve and collaborator Jon Spaihts spin their wheels with the Fremen and take forever — besides a brief introduction of Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) and her father, the Emperor (Christopher Walken) — to work in anyone else. When they do, it’s merely a minute of the pathetic Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista) ‘roiding out over the Harkonnens’ inability to stifle the desert “rat” insurgents.

Rather than continue Part One’s invigorating blend of stunning imagery and engaging, informative world- and myth-building, Part Two quickly devolves into Long Dramatic Stares: The Movie. With the filmmakers lacking faith in their storytelling after such a promising opening gambit, the continuation becomes almost Zack Snyder-like in its iconography — lazy solutions that Villeneuve has only occasionally flirted with in his worst films.

Such cheap (well, not in a financial sense) tricks are perhaps to be expected when the storytellers wholly succumb to the saga’s fanatical religious elements, which quickly become one-note — particularly the laughable insistence of Stilgar (Javier Bardem) that Paul is fulfilling ancient prophecies and proving himself the messianic Kwisatz Haderach.

Paul’s embrace of this role plays out somewhat clumsily as Chalamet proves ill-suited for the big emotional outbursts that accompany Paul’s rise to power. But again, the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis and Denzel Washington would probably struggle to be taken seriously in this role with filmmakers who seem in a rush to reach the end and continually brush past what feels like important information.

Likewise running counter to the measured storytelling of Part One, this strangely zippy plotting appears primarily to set up a climactic showdown between Paul and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler, Elvis), a character not even mentioned in the previous film and whose introduction proves predictably forced.

Playing yet another famous performer with a weird voice, Butler is serviceable in the role memorably inhabited by Sting in David Lynch’s Dune, and elicits decent excitement in his birthday gladiator arena sequence as his insane uncle Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) looks on. But the decision to film this stretch primarily in B&W is a strange one and draws too much attention to itself with minimal underlying intent.

Tossed around like an off-worlder attempting to ride a sand worm, one grows tired of practically everyone except Walken and Pugh, in part because they haven’t been given enough time to grow dull. However, such opportunities await as, like its predecessor, Part Two is mere prelude to further adventures with Paul & Co.

It didn’t seem to be the case after the immense potential of Part One, but in all its awkwardness, the 40-year-old Lynch version remains the definitive big-screen adaptation of Dune.