‘Dune: Part Two’: Zendaya rockets to movie stardom in a sci-fi epic for the ages

The adaptation of the beloved Frank Herbert novel transports viewers to Arrakis, in what is the most thrilling epic film in recent memory.

Mere minutes into “Dune: Part Two,” one thing is made implicitly clear: it’s time to buckle up. From the first frame of Denis Villeneuve’s second installment of his adaptation of the beloved Frank Herbert sci-fi novel of the same name, viewers are thrown right back into the fascinating, brutal, and fast-paced action on Arrakis, where the struggle for power over the coveted “melange” or “the spice” continues.

Zendaya as Chani in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “Dune: Part Two.” (Photo credit: Warner Bros.)

A necessary catch-up

Dense and filled with necessary details, a repeat viewing of the first “Dune” film is recommended. Good news: the film is currently streaming on Max and Hulu, making it easy to look back at our introduction to the epic saga. The first film, 2021’s “Dune,” was a massive box-office success as movies struggled to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, earning multiple Academy Awards and critical acclaim.

“Dune” is set in the distant future, where Paul Atreides of House Atreides is thrown into an intergalactic war over the desert planet Arrakis, home to “melange,” a very important resource that fuels space travel. Seeking revenge for the fall of his house, Paul trains with the Fremen (the people of Arrakis), earning their trust as their leader as they head toward a battle for the fate of the entire empire.

Bigger, badder, bolder

Everything to love about “Dune: Part Two” is what we come to adore about some of the greatest fantasy sequels of all time. Think “The Empire Strikes Back” or even “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” With all that exposition and set-up out of the way, the story can truly fly, with more impressive action sequences, higher stakes, and visuals that truly astound.

Chani: A character for the ages

At the heart of the movie, lies Chani. A fighter, Freman and love interest of Atreides, she believes in Atreides before anyone else does, teaching him the ways of her people. While “Dune: Part One” had minimal Chani (Zendaya appeared in Paul’s dreams before finally appearing in person at the end of the first film), she gets to take center stage in the sequel, commanding thrilling action sequences and high-stakes dramatic scenes opposite the likes of Javier Bardem and Rebecca Ferguson.

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For years, Zendaya has been fascinatingly intentional in her career steps thus far. She’s been in major projects of TV and film (winning two Emmy Awards for her historic performance in “Euphoria” while appearing as “MJ” in all three of the MCU’s “Spider-Man” films), and yet, it has yet to be too much. Far from overexposed, the multi-hyphenate’s selective filmography feels like it has led her to this moment in “Dune: Part Two,” where Chani elevates the text, steals every frame, and stands as the heartbeat of the film.

Without giving anything away, Chani is an extremely consequential character to the plot of “Dune,” without feeling like a one-dimensional plot device. Through the text and Zendaya’s grounded performance, Chani is fully fleshed out: a real, fearless girl fighting for justice amid an unjust world, balancing the love of her people with the love of her life, all while, frankly, kicking some major ass. What a joy it is to watch Zendaya in full movie star mode, complementing her jaw-dropping red-carpet appearances with a performance destined to live on in the hearts and minds of sci-fi fans and moviegoers for generations to come. 

“Dune: Part Two” is in theaters now.

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