‘Dune’ Review: It Looks Great, But Is That Enough?

There’s a running joke that the Marvel movies are just expensive commercials for future Marvel movies, but this is literally a commercial for future “Dune” movies…

“Dune” is the second adaptation of the 1965 novel by Frank Herbert, following David Lynch’s 1984 film. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the film stars Timothée Chalamet as a young man in the distant future who sees his royal family (Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson) thrust into an inter-planet war. The ensemble cast also includes Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem.

Denis Villeneuve has quickly become the go-to guy for Hollywood’s sci-fi property, earning a Best Director nomination for “Arrival” and then helming the long-delayed sequel “Blade Runner 2049.” He signed on to direct a “Dune” adaptation back in 2017, and made it clear he intended to break the book up into two films in order to properly handle the novel’s depth. What results is a first film that feels like the set-up that it is, with great visuals and nuggets of promise, but a lingering sense of emptiness.

After becoming a critical darling in recent years, Timothée Chalamet finally gets to star in a big-budget blockbuster and earn a nice paycheck. Here he isn’t really doing too much outside his normal quiet disposition wheelhouse, though he does give some simple but effective glances that add depth to the character.

The rest of the cast is solid, albeit mostly extended cameos and light on the development. Since the film is setting up a second installment that will act as the epic climax to the story, a lot of characters then go on their way to do what they need to do before the inevitable big fight. Jason Momoa is probably the standout of the supporting players, having some badass fight moments while also bringing his surfer bro attitude to scenes.

The visuals are as gorgeous as one would expect from a $165 million Denis Villeneuve project. With various locations, ranging from lush forests, to barren deserts, to sleek spaceships, everything looks polished and like a wonderful mix of “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars.” The fight sequences are also very entertaining, with a decent amount of violence for a PG-13 film.

However, while “Dune” is a feast for the eyes, it is somewhat hollow on the inside. With a film of this size, some world-building, exposition, and set-up is to be expected, and even encouraged. However, every time it seems like the momentum is building, “Dune” introduces us to an entirely new set of characters or rules and starts the process all over. By the time the climax arrives, it feels as if we only just met these characters and their struggles; maybe in a few years with the benefit of hindsight (and a second film) this will be less of a hinderance, but as it stands now it just makes the whole experience feel like an obligatory chore more than an epic experience.

“Dune” is paced pretty well for being 156 minutes, and I acknowledge that it isn’t entirely fair to judge the film on its own as it is part of a two-part vision from Villeneuve and his team. However as far as reviewing this film at this point-in-time goes, “Dune” is a beautiful-looking piece of science fiction that jumps between epic, goofy, and dense; I want to see how the story plays out, I’m just not entirely convinced the journey that Villeneuve has started us on will be worth it.

Critics Rating: 6/10

Warner Bros.

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