The Godfather: Part II

The Godfather: Part II ★★★★★

This is obviously coming as no surprise to anyone, but The Godfather: Part II is possibly the best sequel ever made. There are other sequels I like more, but if we’re judging purely on how it stands compared to the original and what it had to live up to, then this is without a doubt the greatest sequel ever made. It expands and continues the story of the first film in such a natural, enriching and substantial yet extremely effective way that, when looking back at these characters’ stories as a whole, I just can’t imagine them and what they go through in the first film without also considering Part II in the overarching story. Simply put: when I think of the story of Michael and Vito as a whole and their characters, I don’t just think about the events taking place in the first film, I also think back to their stories in the 2nd film, respectively in the future and the past, since it expands on them so naturally (something that instead I can’t say for Part III, but I’ll save that for later).

There’s so much to delve into when talking about this film and so much I WANT to delve into, that I definitely won’t be able to tackle everything in one review since that’s just impossible; for now though, let’s first focus on Vito’s story. In this film we follow him as a young man in New York as his business is just getting started. A lot of people feel that Marlon Brando’s absence here is strongly felt, and although I can somewhat agree, I feel like his presence in this film in any way would likely be unnecessary (even the final flashback scene works better as it is in the final product imo), and this is totally compensated by De Niro’s brilliant performance as a younger version of him. It actually took me some time to fully appreciate his performance, since when I first saw this film years ago I thought he was good but definitely not to the level of Brando in the first film, but on this rewatch I was able to take in much better all the subtleties displayed in his performance. He is somehow able to walk a fine line making it feel like the same character through his mannerisms and how he acts while also bringing his own input as an actor, bringing the character to life beautifully and in a way that is, again, very subtle but incredibly effective, since you don’t doubt for a second that this is the same character. Even the way the character is written is incredibly consistent with who he is as a person and how we know him from the first film, with my personal favorite moment being when he accepts that he has to lose his job and even respectfully refuses charity from his boss because of it, making us understand and sympathize with his character immensely, and there are so many details such as this (like how he always says “... and I won’t forget it”) that really draw us in the story and the character and his arc. The only small moment that I’m not a fan of in this sense is when Vito says the iconic line from the first film “I’ll make him an offer...”, since it’s the only one that feels a bit like pandering fan service and it’s also possibly the only line spoken in English in the entire segment.

The other aspect that I love the most about this segment is the overall authenticity to not only recreating Little Italy but also Italian culture in general: the film really takes us back to early century’s Little Italy with the completely seamless production design that never breaks the illusion (along with the insane amount of extras as well as the cinematography and color palette, consistent in style with the first film), creating an incredibly absorbing atmosphere, and I love how pretty much the entire storyline features dialogue solely in Italian, feeling incredibly accurate and authentic to the time period and that specific culture (imagine my disappointment when I went to New York as a kid, expecting Little Italy to be lively and chaotic in a similar way to how it’s represented in this film, then seeing that now it’s pretty much just a lifeless tourist attraction with Italian restaurants and whatnot lol); the actor that played younger Clemenza especially really nailed the accent, and obviously everything I just said also goes for the scenes taking place in Sicily. Which brings me to another of my favorite aspects of not only this film but The Godfather series as a whole, which is the villains.

I honestly think The Godfather series has some of the best villains in film history, and this film especially features some of my favorite villains in any film of all time. You have Don Fanucci in the Vito storyline, who on his own is really entertaining and funny but also very intimidating and full of character, and also Don Ciccio back in Sicily who, in his very short runtime, still manages to leave a mark and feel like an actual character; and then finally, you have Hyman Roth in the Michael storyline. The contrast between his character and Michael’s character is simply brilliant: they are pretty much opposite sides of the same coin in that they share a lot of similarities with the way they handle business and especially in how methodical and patient both of them are, and yet they’re almost drastically different regarding their morals and sometimes their mannerisms. Part of me thinks this is part of why Michael felt such a disdain for Roth and wanted to kill him at all costs, since he felt like he was the only one on the planet capable of outsmarting him (and nearly got him killed); regardless though, Michael wanted him killed because he wanted to wipe out all his enemies either way so it makes little difference in the end. Even disregarding their incredibly intriguing and tension-filled rivalry and chess game, Hyman Roth on his own is a really well-defined, unique and decently entertaining character with plenty of traits that may seem simple at first but as a whole really add a lot to his character (like how he doesn’t want a big piece of cake, or how he’ll let only a certain kind of doctors treat him or how he really enjoys watching baseball in the afternoon in his own private home), on top of being superbly performed by Lee Strasberg, all adding up to one of my favorite antagonists in any film ever. Even not considering the villains in the film, there are so many great characters throughout this film and this trilogy that share all of these same qualities, with my favorite one here being easily Frankie Pentangeli, who pretty much steals the show in every scene he’s in (his monologue near the end about Roman history is a really nice addition to the overall themes of the film and the trilogy and the whole culture and morals of the characters and their organization).

Ultimately I think my favorite aspect of this film as a whole, despite all the other incredible qualities I just mentioned, is the overall recurring theme of the film and how it serves in tying everything together, not only from a thematic standpoint but also from a narrative and storytelling one. The editing in this film is simply brilliant in how, as you can notice while watching the film, it connects each storyline with singular moments that revolve around this overarching theme of family within the film: pretty much every time a sequence starts and ends in either the Vito storyline or the Michael storyline, the film focuses on this recurring theme of family in how it affects both Vito’s character and Michael’s (for example how we cut from the news of Kay’s miscarriage to Vito worrying over his newborn being sick of pneumonia), serving as the tissue that holds everything together and keeps the epic scope of the story from falling apart, and also showing both the similarities and the contrast between their individual storylines and arcs, which is ultimately what this film is really exploring and where its emotional core is.

What I ultimately think is the main difference between Vito and Michael as characters and their growth over the course of the film is that Vito, while building this empire and committing these criminal acts, knew that he had to keep a balance within his family and private life and that his satisfaction and happiness in life came from that and those moments spent with his wife and his children, also mainly because he was trying to make a better life for them; whereas Michael, who ironically tried so much to be like his father and follow his footsteps, forgot this and let his family relationships fall apart in favor of building this “legacy” and strengthen his power, leading to the film ending on this sort of tragic note with that beautiful final sequence, where Michael reflects on and regrets the moment he chose to distance himself in every way from his family as much as possible, wondering what the point of it was as well as his actions. Another last aspect that I also find at the same time ironic and tragic is that, whereas Vito found his own “demise” at the hands of others (since he probably would have been killed if it wasn’t for Michael protecting him at the hospital in the first film, and regardless his legacy as head of the family pretty much ended with the attempt at his life), Michael himself and his actions are in the end the cause of his own fall, and that’s what I think is so tragic about this film in particular.

Tbh at this point I don’t know if I love this or the first film more: the first one is probably the better film overall and definitely the more compact and “perfect”, and likely my favorite all things considered; but there’s something about this film that is so incredibly ambitious and emotional and purposeful with its characters that in ways makes me adore it even more, so in the end I think I love both of them about equally. They’re both some of the greatest films ever made and this one especially is incredibly dense and complex with its story and characters, and possibly the most impressive thing about it is that despite its epic scope there’s a real strong emotional core to it that keeps everything in focus and intact and not like a mess, while also showing some beautiful filmmaking craft in every single scene (one of my favorites that I forgot to mention is one of the last confrontations between Fredo and Michael, with particularly brilliant staging and vulnerable acting and the mood and cold atmosphere set perfectly by the snow outside of the house). The importance these films hold for me and my love for film and filmmaking is immense and just endless, and I’m glad I finally got to talk about them in detail.

Anyway, that about wraps up my thoughts on the film for now. There’s so much that can be said about this (undeniably) absolute masterpiece that, while I couldn’t fit every possible thing I want to say on it in one review and that resulting into this feeling at least a bit like a mess, I’m glad I’ll at least have more opportunities in the future to discuss all of what I love about it. This review took WAY more time to write than I though it would, and I kept delaying it cause it was difficult to find a good way to approach it and kept not logging other stuff for a while since I wanted to focus on this one in particular, so I’m happy that it’s finally over now at least even if it’s a bit more of a mess than I anticipated. Either way, if you read this till the end thank you SO SO much, my words simply can’t express the amount of gratitude I have for your attention, I really love talking about films and it truly means a lot that people find some kind of genuine interest in that; so, again, thanks a lot!

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