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Is Dune 2 the next Empire Strikes Back? Here’s what the critics are saying

Paul walks in the desert in Dune: Part Two.
Warner Bros.

In the realm of sci-fi, it’s a rare sequel that outshines its predecessor. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had it easy, because Star Trek: The Motion Picture was such a slog by comparison. A true showing of greatness was the way that The Empire Strikes Back somehow managed to improve upon the original Star Wars, one of the most groundbreaking sci-fi films ever made. And now, the early response to Dune: Part Two suggests that Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up to Dune may have pulled off the trick of a sci-fi sequel that outshines the original film.

Is Dune 2 the next Empire Strikes Back? Fans will get to decide for themselves soon enough. But the first reviews are in, and Dune: Part Two is currently sitting on a 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Below, we’ve assembled a selection from the Dune: Part Two reviews and the initial reactions from some of the most prominent online film critics. And almost all of them are very positive.

Here’s what the critics are saying

A bald man screams in Dune: Part Two.
Warner Bros.

In his review for Variety, Peter Debruge favorably compares the scale of Villeneuve’s Dune films to Christopher Nolan’s movies. “Whatever you do, don’t mistake this follow-up for a sequel. It’s the second half of a saga, which Villeneuve has hinted about wanting to carry through a third installment, provided Part Two earns enough for him to keep going. Like Christopher Nolan, the director is operating on the largest possible scale, pushing the medium to accommodate his vision. Also like Nolan, he has composer Hans Zimmer’s help in making everything sound as stunning as it looks.”

Lovia Gyarkye’s review for The Hollywood Reporter is largely complimentary: “Dune: Part Two maintains the grandiose visual style introduced in Dune while also paying more attention to story and character development. Plot takes precedence in this second installment of Villeneuve’s planned three-part adaptation of Frank Herbert’s series.” However, Gyarkye adds that “Part Two is plagued by a nagging shallowness when it comes to portraying the Fremen, an indigenous people fighting for self-determination within the empire; the film has difficulty fully embracing the nuance of Herbert’s anti-imperial and ecologically dystopian text.”

A man stands in front of a crowd in Dune: Part Two.
Warner Bros.

“Heavy with spectacle and theme as it is, Part Two is often surprisingly nimble,” writes Richard Dawson in his review for Vanity Fair. “As a filmmaker, Villeneuve has long had trouble balancing plot with picture, but here he almost gets the calibration exactly right.”

David Crow’s review for Den of Geek had a very astute observation: “The film is a feverish dream of another world that feels as real and elusive as sand slipping through your fingertips … It’s a place one would never want to be, and yet, you do not want to leave.” Crow also shared his awe that “such an uncompromising vision could be made as a modern blockbuster.”

A more complex, more violent sequel

The Los Angeles Times‘ film editor Joshua Rothkopf says, “Dune: Part Two isn’t a battle for freedom won, so much as the beginning of something far more cynical, the potential for an entire universe to explode into flames. Villeneuve has made good on one of the great Hollywood gambles in recent memory, delivering a two-part epic of literary nuance, timely significance, and maybe even the promise of another film or two.”

CinemaBlend’s managing editor Sean O’Connell said that he preferred the first Dune film over the sequel, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t impressed: “Dune: Part Two is MASTERFUL filmmaking on an epic scale. Denis Villeneuve marries gripping character development to vast, sweeping cinematic visuals. And the cast evolves in their roles. I slightly prefer the simpler DUNE to this complex chapter, but still, a towering achievement.”

Paul fights an enemy in Dune: Part Two.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Io9’s Germain Lussier assured fans that “Denis Villeneuve sticks the landing with Dune: Part Two, a fascinating, terrifying character study told on a gloriously grand sci-fi scale. Timothée Chalamet & Zendaya are INCREDIBLE in it, the set pieces are jaw-dropping, & the supporting cast elevates all the rest. It’s great.”

That Hashtag Show’s Hunter Bolding called Dune: Part Two “a spectacle among all spectacles. A blockbuster to end all blockbusters. This is a mythical tome of a film that succeeds in every way. It’s among the most impressive films I’ve ever seen.”’s Brandon Davis immediately went with the Star Wars comparison in his reaction: “Some of the visuals in Dune: Part Two had me so astonished, I feel like I understand how everyone felt seeing Star Wars for the first time back in 1977. It’s just unbelievable at times.”

The Wrap’s film editor Kristen Lopez admitted that she doesn’t love the franchise, but also stated that she liked Dune: Part Two a lot more than the first film: “Thrilling and gorgeously filmed in equal measure. Austin Butler is the MVP alongside Rebecca Ferguson (again). Kudos on embracing the weirdness.”

A visionary film and one of 2024’s best movies

Paul holds Chani in Dune: Part Two.
Warner Bros.

The Playlist’s Gregory Ellwood called the sequel “damn impressive,” before adding that “Villeneuve crafts some truly VISIONARY moments. Austin Butler gives a truly transformative performance (and not talking makeup either). Very moving ending. A wee bit long? Yes. Did I forget I saw it the next day? Yes. Still, gonna be massive.”

Collider founder Steven Weintraub was effusive with his praise for the film, the cast, and the score. But he did have one issue with it: “My only complaint was I wish it was longer. Not joking around. The movie is 2hr and 40 min(?) and I would have been happy to watch another hour.”

Weintraub’s colleague and frequent Collider host Perri Nemiroff went even further with her reaction: “Dune 2 is blockbuster/IP filmmaking at its finest. A script that doesn’t shy away from character complexities, and does a shockingly solid job of reacquainting viewers with the Dune chessboard while adding more pieces to it. Many great performances in the mix, but I was especially taken by Zendaya … Also, I could not take my eyes off of Austin Butler. Everything he’s doing as Feyd-Rautha is just fascinatingly chilling and magnetizing.”

Bucking the trend of positive reactions, IndieWire’s lead critic David Ehrlich simply said, “Well, at least Javier Bardem was having fun.”

Dune: Part Two will hit theaters on Friday, March 1.

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Blair Marnell
Blair Marnell has been an entertainment journalist for over 15 years. His bylines have appeared in Wizard Magazine, Geek…
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