See more of the story

"Dune: Part Two" is spectacular, in both meanings of the word.

The second half of the science fiction movie (yes, it's annoying to only get part of a movie) is huge and hugely entertaining. It's also a series of gigantic setpieces, including gladiators fighting in front of possibly the most enormous (digital) crowd I've ever seen in the movies, battles featuring thousands of warriors in outsized spacecraft and palace hallways that appear to go on into infinity.

I emphasize the movie's bigness because it's so integral to its appeal. There's a lot going on, so much that, even if you do remember "Part One," you may occasionally get lost. But what Denis Villeneuve's movie lacks in narrative clarity it makes up in sheer visual spectacle. Most of "Part Two" must have been created with special effects but, somehow, Villeneuve and his team give it a natural quality, so it never conveys the feeling that you're basically watching an animated film. What we're seeing in "Part Two" — which opens in theaters Feb. 29 — can't be real but it always looks like it is.

That's accomplished by reuniting the creative team that won six Oscars two years ago for the first half of "Dune." Take Jacqueline West's costumes, which are appropriately futuristic but which also appear to be handmade (West was nominated for "Part One" but did not win). As in all of these sci-fi epics, there are plenty of scenes in which computer-generated characters drive computer-generated vehicles past computer-generated backdrops but, in "Dune," it feels human, slightly messy and organic. That comes through most strongly in a couple of scenes in which characters demonstrate their strength during sandstorms, in which it almost feels like we, too, can feel the punishing enormity of the desert winds.

As in "Part One," the story is simple: Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is trying to restore his family, the House of Atreides, to power and save his peoples' future. He has help from fierce Chani (Zendaya), warrior Gurney (Josh Brolin) and man of faith Stilgar (Javier Bardem) but it's not always clear where the loyalties of other characters lie, including his own mother (Rebecca Ferguson). "Part Two" introduces new foes including — here's that word again — a spectacular Austin Butler ("Elvis"), as Feyd-Rautha, a sadistic killing machine who makes up in menace what he lacks in eyebrows.

"Part Two" is meant to further explore the perils of something Chani says early on: "You want to control people? You tell them a messiah will come. They will wait for centuries." It's a provocative idea but "Part Two" loses it in the midst of all the hugeness. I'd also like more of the complicated romance of Paul and Chani; both Chalamet and Zendaya are powerful performers who can do a lot with a little. But every time it seems "Part Two" is about to explore the difficulty of maintaining a relationship when you're both destined for greatness, we cut to somebody blowing up something.

A lot of that has to do with the difficulty of finishing a movie that most moviegoers began back in October 2021, when "Part One" hit theaters. An emotional reunion between Brolin and Chalamet, for instance, will only register if you remember how they parted in the last movie. There are also things from the very beginning of "Part One" that don't pay off until the end of "Part Two."

I guess what I'm saying is that you'd be wise to re-watch the first movie, if you haven't done so recently, and then I'd recommend seeing "Part Two" on the loudest, biggest screen you can find.

'Dune: Part Two'

***1/2 out of 4 stars

Rated: PG-13 for violence.

Where: In theaters.