(originally published Feb 22, 2018)
This weekend, I finally checked The Godfather Part II off of the "omg how haven't you seen that yet" list.
I've seen The Godfather many times in my life, but for some reason Part II completely evaded me. While I still prefer the first one, the sequel is a monumental film in its own right. In many ways an improvement on the first, and in other ways its equal. In no way is it worse, but it is quite different, so your mileage may vary.
Instead of one sprawling tale, Part II practically gives viewers two separate feature films in one sitting. The story of Vito Corleone’s emigration and rise to power runs in parallel with the story of his son Michael's attempts to protect the business as the new Godfather. The scope of this film is breathtaking, dwarfing that of the first film (which is already huge). The two stories weave in and out of each other, each act lasting anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, with the Michael storyline taking up a bulk of the runtime (~138 minutes vs. Vito's ~62). The stories shifted over at appropriate moments, and at no point did it feel boring, but I do wonder how this would have been in chronological order. I feel like there's some emotional investment that gets sidelined when cutting back and forth between the two stories.
At the same time, when presented together, the two narratives elevate the story and give it a ton of thematic heft. Corruption is one of the biggest themes connecting both stories, from what corrupts us to how we corrupt others. Family and business are of course cornerstones of any mafia story, and watching how all these themes manifest over the course of two distinct timelines is endlessly fascinating. It really is a lot to take in the first time through. I'm still chewing on it today, savoring all the juicy goodness of it.
The production values of this film are exceptionally higher than the first film, and most other films in general. Both stories are filmed with distinct styles, every shot artfully and carefully executed. The scenery is lush. The acting is superb. The music is beautiful. It's a truly exceptional piece of filmmaking. The Godfather is astounding, but Part II really takes everything its predecessor did to the next level across the board.