Welcome to the World — Dune: Part Two

William J Hammon
6 min readMar 5, 2024


A large part of what made Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 Dune remake so special was its sense of scale. Through its amazing use of cinematography, editing, and inspired visual effects (done for about half the budget of your average Marvel movie), the film truly gave viewers a sense of what the world of Arrakis could be like. The massive size of the sand worms, the towering buildings, and the detail in the various ships and machinery made for an immersive experience, even on a smaller screen for those of us who still couldn’t make it to a theatre with regularity as the COVID pandemic began to abate.

The only real shortcomings were the sound mixing, which gave us heart-pounding effects and a terrific score, but muted the whispered dialogue of the characters (I was constantly adjusting the volume on my TV watching it) and the sheer number of players to keep track of as the film set the table for the next installment. The long-awaited — and strike-delayed — sequel, Dune: Part Two, addresses both of those issues while effortlessly expanding on the previous film’s grand size, making it easily the first great movie of the year, and an early contender for next year’s Oscars.

Picking up almost immediately after the last film ended, Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides has just defeated Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun) in one-on-one combat and been accepted by a tribe of Fremen led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem), along with his pregnant mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). Chani (Zendaya), the Fremen woman from Paul’s visions, is initially suspicious of his outsider status, but decides to trust him as they have a common goal of revenge against House Harkonnen, who slaughtered Paul’s family and enslaves the Fremen to mine spice on the desert world.

The crux of the story is about how Paul and Jessica take their own paths to develop as leaders. Some of the Fremen, like Stilgar, believe that Paul is a prophesied messiah that will lead them to salvation. Chani is very much against this idea, but Paul is willing to play into it for the greater good, developing a friendship with the Fremen tribes and learning their ways to be effective in battle. Meanwhile, Jessica uses her Bene Gesserit training to drink the poisonous “Water of Life” (essentially infant sand worm blood), which gives her the abilities of a seer, allowing her to take over as a new Reverend Mother in the tribe and spread the Gospel of Paul to the more fundamentalist sects.

Each of these separate Hero’s Journeys requires a lot of physical changes and distance traveled. Working with Chani and Stilgar (and eventually Josh Brolin’s Gurney Halleck), Paul hones his skills in the desert, learning how to tame and ride on sand worms while scoring strategic victories against the Harkonnen, destroying their spice infrastructure and picking off their soldiers, to the consternation of Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgård) and his enforcer Rabban (Dave Bautista). He and Chani also form a romantic relationship based on Paul’s desire to be one of the Fremen, rather than their leader. All of this feels natural, because we see the progression, rather than the script just saying that it happens. By the time Paul’s riding the worm, you believe he actually could do it based on what he’s learned, and when he and Chani become romantic, you believe it because you’ve watched their rapport develop.

On Jessica’s side, she travels to the planet’s southern hemisphere, crossing a dangerous and constant sandstorm, to begin work converting the non-believers, communicating with her unborn daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy) on how to control the situation. There’s cold ambition in her actions, but logic in her choices. This could easily be heavy-handed messaging against religious zealotry or faith itself, but there’s enough nuance to Jessica’s character that it never feels false, hollow, or truly manipulative to the viewer, even though she is manipulating some of the Fremen.

Unlike the last film, most of the palace intrigue is kept firmly in the background. We get occasional cutaways to the Imperial Capital, where the Emperor (Christopher Walken) laments his complicity in House Atreides’ destruction, and his daughter, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) works with the Bene Gesserit (led by Charlotte Rampling and Léa Seydoux) to ensure the safety of her family and the continuation of their seat on the throne. Mostly they exist for exposition, and to introduce the psychotic Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler) as a possible heir if House Harkonnen triumphs. Their scenes ultimately serve as palate cleansers after particularly exciting sequences, keeping the story relatively grounded and on-track, so we as an audience don’t feel the pressure to keep checking notes to remind us of who’s who and doing what in a given moment.

All of the artistic and technical elements that wowed us last time out are once again on full display, but pushed to the next level. As Paul and the Fremen wage war against the Harkonnens, the size and scale of the battle scenes is absolutely glorious to behold, with the added bonus that the sound mix has been improved so that we can still hear important dialogue while the explosions rattle our chairs. The costuming is off the charts once more, going even more bombastic while still making sense within this world. Pugh herself wears a dress late in the film that’s so perfect that if I ever see a woman cosplaying it properly, I’ll propose on the spot. The color scheme is also dazzling in the extreme, most of it done with practical effects and makeup. For example, Feyd-Rautha is introduced via a “celebratory” gladiator fight against three surviving Atreides men as a birthday present, and the entire arena is in black and white. It’s not just a visual effect, however. The sets are black, the sand is white, and Butler himself is caked in white makeup, to the point that his sociopathic grin and stare make him look like Pennywise if they shaved off all his hair. I literally had to remind myself that this was Austin Butler and not Bill Skarsgård. What little blood results from the slaughter (this is still PG-13 after all) shows bright red against the sand, creating an amazing contrast.

All of this combines to make Arrakis (and the few other locations we visit) really feel like unique, inhabitable worlds. This isn’t like your standard effects-driven spectacle where you can tell it’s just a bunch of CGI nonsense on a green screen. You really do feel like you could reach out and pick up the sand and see the tiny bright grains of spice within. You can sense the danger of falling debris during an explosion. You can almost feel the wind in your own hair. When the two moons of Arrakis make for almost daily eclipses, the change in lighting makes the viewer feel as if they’re living in the environment. These are such expert touches that you don’t even care that the film sets up a third entry to conclude a trilogy (based on Dune Messiah). Instead, you’re chomping at the bit to see where this could go next.

It is a rare thing when a sequel is unequivocally better than its predecessor, especially when that first film was already a masterpiece, but Villeneuve has accomplished that here. If the first film was his Star Wars or Godfather, then this is Godfather Part II or The Empire Strikes Back. Let’s pray that the final installment is closer to Return of the Jedi than Godfather Part III.

Grade: A

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What element of this franchise do you like the best? Does the phrase “riding the worm” sound too dirty? Let me know! And remember, you can follow me on Twitter (fuck “X”) and YouTube for even more content!

Originally published at http://actuallypaid.com on March 5, 2024.



William J Hammon

All content is from the blog, “I Actually Paid to See This,” available at actuallypaid.com