Newsday's film critic, Rafer Guzmán, reports that "Dune: Part Two" is a welcome addition to the genre of grown-up sci-fi. Credit: Newsday

PLOT A young aristocrat becomes the Messiah to a colonized people.

CAST Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Javier Bardem

RATED PG-13 (some strong violence)


WHERE Area theaters on March 1

BOTTOM LINE A deeper and richer sequel aimed at grown-up sci-fi fans.

Colonization, revolution, means of production, religion as social control — these are among the themes that elevated Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel “Dune” far above its traditionally pulpy genre. No gold-plated bikinis here: Herbert, a career journalist and ravenous researcher (he died in 1986), was more interested in how humans create cultures and how civilizations rise and fall.

Despite David Lynch’s 1984 film adaptation (a legendary misfire) and a 2000 miniseries for the Sci-Fi Channel, “Dune” is being remade as a theatrical franchise by Denis Villeneuve, a Canadian director whose austere style (“Prisoners,” “Arrival”) seems perfect for Herbert’s dense material. “Dune: Part One” (2021) was certainly visually striking but, for my money, it felt overly complicated and short on human warmth.

“Dune: Part Two” has something of the same problems, but here’s the good news: As the story deepens, the previous film’s setups pay off and those heady Herbertian themes come to the fore. The most intriguing: Can an invented religion spawn a real Messiah?

“Dune: Part Two” finds young aristocrat Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) fully assimilating into the Fremen tribe on the planet Arrakis — a desert world his own family once colonized. The Fremen chieftain Stilgar (a wonderful Javier Bardem) believes Paul is their savior: “As it is written!” he exclaims whenever the kid performs the slightest feat. The warrior Chani (Zendaya, making up for her bit part in the first film) doesn’t fully trust this newcomer — but those Chalamet eyes are hard to resist. There’s also a wild card in Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who’s pressing her own agenda as part of an ancient order called the Bene Gesserit. The eclectic support cast includes Christopher Walken, Charlotte Rampling, Florence Pugh and an enjoyable Dave Bautista as the spluttering villain Glossu “Beast” Rabban.

Back on the Beast's home planet, Giedi Prime, the corpulent Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) charges his psychotic nephew, Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), with obliterating the Fremen. Butler just about steals the show as this bald, black-toothed sadist, and his ability to nail an accent — first the Memphis-raised Elvis Presley, now the Swedish-born Skarsgård — is uncanny.

Villeneuve stages several magisterial action sequences involving mountain-size tanks and spacecraft being brought down by Fremen guerrillas. Why does this CGI-dependent movie look so impressive where others look so phony? Ironically, it might be Villeneuve’s use of stillness: The less those giant ships move, the more ominous they feel. (Warner Bros. waited out the pandemic to release this IMAX-shot film to theaters, where it belongs.)

All of which makes “Dune: Part Two” a welcome addition to the genre of grown-up sci-fi. There’s still something a little cold about this desert-themed franchise: Its characters feel more conceptual than primal, and its world feels more like allegory than fantasy. Then again, that might be just how Herbert would have liked it.

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