A Few Thoughts After Dune 2 Viewings

A Few Thoughts After Dune 2 Viewings

And now, I must repent. Last week, after my midnight viewing of Dune: Part 2 I noted that while this new film is great and an absolute spectacle, I felt as if I still liked the first film more. Well, I just watched it for a second time, at a much more reasonable hour, and I'm happy to report that I was wrong.1 To risk sounding like Stilgar talking about Muad'dib, on second-viewing, Dune: Part 2 can do no wrong.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

To be fair to myself, my first viewing did end after 3am. I was sitting in about the 5th row of an incredibly large IMAX screen. I was overwhelmed by the images and my dad-of-an-infant brain was flashing in and out like Paul on spice. And this probably better explains why my initial reaction was that the film's third-act was weaker than it could have been. To be clear, I do feel like it could have been about 30 minutes longer – something which I can't believe I'm saying about a 3-hour-long movie. And I certainly didn't believe that at 3am! But again, on second-viewing, there's not a lot of room to breathe in the last hour. It's literally breathtaking. But it's also just a lot to take in, certainly in one sitting.

Hence, my second sitting! This go-around, I truly do believe the first two acts of Dune: Part 2 are nearly flawless. The third act is a masterstroke of momentum, I simply wish there was more of it. Most films peter out at the end for obvious reasons narratively and often, sadly, for budget reasons. Dune 2 does not.

Okay, with all that off my chest. I have a few small nits. Because this is what the internet is for, after all.

Don't Make Me Do This, I Cannot!

Narratively, I think they do an excellent job conveying why Paul is so steadfast about not going south. His mother is clearly trying to manipulate him to go there, his visions of Chani dying, and, of course, his vision of billions dying – namely from starving to death. He gets the message. Yet he changes his mind after a vision with Jamis – the warrior he killed at the end of the first film, but whom he hardly knew. They set him up as a sort of ghost guide to Paul, but it's still a bit odd how much faith he puts in him – especially to override this most sacred belief. Jamis tells him he must go south and drink the Water of Life, so of course he must.

Look, it's fine. I just think there are about a half dozen other ways you could have convinced us (and Paul) that he needs to go south. There are a lot of good reasons! Namely, the army he needs to defeat the Emperor resides there. But after nearly an hour of protest – "don't make me do this, I cannot!" – off Paul goes. And basically as soon as he gets there, it's blue goo time. Just all a bit quick, IMO.

"Look Who's Back from the Dead"

Dave Bautista's Glossu Rabban Harkonnen is a great villain in the first film. In the second, he falls apart. On first viewing, I thought his unraveling was a bit too quick. But on second-viewing, the pressures on him by his uncle, the Baron, I think are played well – leading to his utter embarrassment at the hands (well, feet) of his cousin, Feyd-Rautha.

What I don't like is just how quickly he's killed at the hands (actual hands) of Gurney Halleck. It's not quite as quickly as Paul disposes of the Baron, but the Baron was already mortally wounded. Paul simply put him down, "you die like an animal". Halleck puts down Rabban in a similar manner, and with similar speed. Like some paper tiger. Mostly, I'm still slightly cringing from the "look who's back from the dead" line. Is this Dune or a 1980s low-budget Chuck Norris action film?

Your Father Was a Weak Man, with a Watch

Back to the Emperor, Shaddam Corrino IV. Look, you can't have Christopher Walken playing such a key part here. I'm sorry, I love Christopher Walken. But you can't. You can't because he's Christopher Walken. He's a great actor, and was one of the best 40-some years ago in films like The Deer Hunter. But at this point in his career he cannot not be Christopher Walken. That's obviously not all his fault, but he has certainly played it up over the past couple decades as well.

I'm not sure I will ever be able to un-hear Walken saying "Muad'dib" as if he's like some street vendor in Queens. I'll be honest that I was intrigued when the casting news came down – again, great actor, maybe they'd do something to de-Walken him. I mean, they mostly de-Elvis'd Austin Butler. But nope. Full Walken. In the universe of Dune. A pretty big casting mistake, sadly.

The Cold Shoulder

In that first viewing, I didn't like how abruptly Paul drops Chani for Princess Irulan. The entire first two-thirds of Dune 2 is a very well executed love story between Paul and Chani. That all changes when he drinks the Water of Life and dies/comes back. Again, this is all fine and makes sense, narratively; the falling out just happens so quickly.

But on second viewing, I think they actually do a pretty good job with this. Lady Jessica foreshadows what will have to happen early on, which is directly tied in to why Paul's father never married Jessica (which they perhaps could have made more explicit): marriage is a strategic asset for alliances, not to be "thrown away" for love (which also ties into the Emperor's comments about Leto, of course). Paul cashes in the chip exactly when he must and tries to give Chani a bit of a heads up by reiterating that he will love her until his last breath.

The entire third act is basically Chani watching in annoyance and then disgust as Paul morphs from Muad'Dib/Usul into the Kwisatz Haderach and Mahdi. The love story turns into a horror story. You're set up to think that she's going to do something to either fully sever her relationship with Paul – or worse (think: Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen!). Instead, it's Paul who inserts the figurative dagger.

Again, the small nit is that this all could have been given slightly more room to breathe with slightly more time in that final act.

Vision, Pro

Anyway, those are a few nits that still stood out to me on second viewing. Basically, they're all related to the third act. And yet it's perhaps the most exhilarating third act I can recall seeing in some time. Maybe ever.

Overall, this is just immaculate execution of such an incredible movie. Truly epic. The type, yes, perfect for theaters – though I'm very intrigued how it will look on Vision Pro (which we undoubtedly won't see for several months). This is a filmmaker at the top of his game. And hopefully he finds his way back to this very game in six years or so for Dune Messiah/Dune: Part 3. It's just an all-encompassing universe he's created here. From the relatively quiet, at times eerie, and almost contemplative first film to this beautiful, frenetic, pulsing second film – what an adaptation.

1 That said, I'll always love you, Dune: Part 1, because we grew up together. Well, made it through a global pandemic together. Seriously, they're both so great. And when viewed as a whole, six-hour story, even stronger.