As the world came out of the 2021 lockdown, Denis Villeneuve brought the first part of his vision of the sand-swept majesty of Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi tome Dune to the silver screen. Three years later, after some industry related delays, the second half of that adaptation has finally arrived in cinematic form.

Far in the future, a mighty game of galactic chess is being played between the Padish Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken), the evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) and the young Duke Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet). But behind the scenes, the strings of war and power are being plucked and trimmed by the indoctrinating and controlling Bene Gesserit, and their leader, Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling)

The story of Dune: Part Two, picks up immediately where Part One left off, following Paul and his pregnant Bene Gesserit mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), into the sands of Arrakis. Now under the protection of the Bedouin desert people, The Fremen, and their leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem), they must still flee the vicious Harkonnen army in the wake of Arrakeen city being invaded and conquered. Moreover, Paul must wrestle with his visions of the future, and being dragged into the Bene Gesserit prophecies which he fears may throw him into a galactic holy war that will bring the deaths of billions of souls.

It is fair to say that the task of bringing Herbert’s weighty and politically labyrinthine novel to the screen was never going to be an easy one. David Lynch’s utterly bonkers 1984 attempt never caught on, and the commendably staged but cheap-looking Sci-Fi Channel Miniseries fared little better. However, with the second part of Dune now out, it’s possible to say that Villeneuve’s vision of the material is probably the best compromise between the vast epic concepts and the necessary limitations of a theatrically released film.

While Dune was a streamlined introduction to the story, Part Two takes the more cumbersome latter half of the novel and turns it into Lawrence of Arabia in space. Purists might baulk at the reduction in characters, factions, and the political intrigue, as well as condensing the timeline from years into months, but it lets the beauty and simplicity of this complex story unwind at an endurable pace. The script also has enough repetition and simplification to ensure that everyone keeps up, without ever sounding overly facile.

The heart of the story is in the troubled romance between Paul, and Chani (Zendaya) the Fremen warrior who narrated but only briefly appeared in the previous film. While Paul’s premonitions and his mother’s guidance seem clearly set on having him assume the mantle of a desert messiah, Chani’s cynical pragmatism, and sceptical level-headedness is the only thing tethering him to a dream of a normal life. It’s brilliantly acted with a casual authenticity and believable chemistry from both leads.

A great addition to the cast this time round is Paul’s Harkonnen counterpart, the psychotic and vicious Na-Baron Feyd-Ruatha, played with a sly relish by Austin Butler. It’s a bold choice to throw in a new main antagonist midway through a sequel, but it pays off in a stunningly bizarre gladiatorial battle sequence under the black sun of Geidi Prime, shot largely with infra-red cameras to create an uncanny and eerie starkness.

Elsewhere the rest of the cast do solid work, but most feel somewhat underserved by having too few scenes, or having arcs left on the cutting room floor. If there is a bum note here, it’s Christopher Walken turning in something of a subdued and pedestrian performance in this otherwise extravagant epic.

In all, it’s an audio-visual delight, and likely will easily remain unchallenged as the most stunning film of the year. Is it perfect? Not quite. It’s a little too long, and a yet little too slight in parts to be perfect but it’s a staggering achievement in cinema, a perfect successor to the previous film, and leaves a narrow way open for a potential sequel to complete Herbert’s cautionary tale of warning against the worship of those who seek power.

In cinemas nationwide now