Director Denis Villeneuve has his work cut out for him as he delivers the notoriously complicated Dune. This is science-fiction on its grandest scale, delivering many worlds, many families, a complex political structure and back-story beyond back-story. At the same time you have to keep the movie interesting and engaging. Fortunately, for the most part, Villeneuve delivers.
Dune isn’t too complicated but its not a gentle viewing. There is a lot of exposition and introduction of characters in the first forty-five minutes. These characters are interesting though so you can slightly overlook some of the clunky nature of their dialogue, as each individual has to give a slightly unnatural mini-history or spell out their intentions quite clearly so that the audience can keep up.
Part of the reason you can look past this comes from the great cast and the complex characters they embody. Timothee Chalamet ably leads the charge, not a conventional “hero” but one who can balance the drama and action well. Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac have some heavy-lifting of their own and their interactions with their on-screen son and each other make for compelling (but yet again, exposition full) scenes. Add a cast which also includes Jason Mamoa as the archetype hero, Josh Brolin as a grizzled general and Stellan Skarsgard as what you would describe as the movie’s villain, and you have a very impressive group bringing this to the screen. Only Javier Bardem feels under-used but you can see his role growing in the next movie.
These characters being so engaging and their motives being clearly intertwined also means that the film ably handles a very dense plot. There are many aspects to the movie’s story, with sub-plots within sub-plots. Its never dull and there is so much happening that you will remain interested but you can’t afford to let your attention slip.
Luckily, this plot is punctured by some key set-pieces. You can divide these into two types; the first is the scene setting, with huge sprawling worlds brought to life brilliantly that Dune feels perfectly epic. This is a world with so much potential and you want to know more as each new character, place and faction are introduced. The second type is the action sequences. These are different type of epic but no less staggering. There are explosions, sand-worms and cool battle sequences which are well-staged and help keep the pace of the lengthy movie feeling urgent.
That lengthy run-time will surprise some though as this is clearly a “first half” of a story. It soon becomes apparent that key answers to questions raised early are not going to be forthcoming and that if we are going to see the fruition of some the many premonitions and half-whispered ideas, a second film needs to be made. This also goes for the finale which considering what has gone before, can’t help but feel slightly under-whelming.
Overall, Dune is a suitably epic science-fiction movie. It has a great cast delivering interesting characters. A dense and complex story which is punctured by some fantastic set-pieces and great action. Look past some clunky exposition and and underwhelming finale and you get a movie which leaves you excited to revisit this well-realised world.
Rating – 4
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