A Sequel Better Than The Original.
There, I said it. Godfather’s second incarnation is better than the first, having a cleaner plot and an interesting juxtaposition of past and present.
American Film Institutes Ranking: #32/100
Awards: Nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (De Niro), Adapted Screenplay, & Score.
Initial reaction to this movie was divided with many people not liking the two story arcs happening at once. Canby writing for the New York Times described the film as “stitched together from leftover parts.” The film later became a focus of reevaluation with some considering it a better film than the first. Roger Ebert even went as far as to re-rate the movie with his highest ranking retrospectively.
Something about this film caught my eye more than the first, and I think it centers around me viewing the two-story arcs positively; it gives us time to breath from present day events while providing a solid, stand-alone story.
[story/spoiler.] Let’s split this up into the two different pieces:
- Present Day: Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is the Godfather, and it begins much like Part I did with a huge party and people coming to him for favors. Frank Pentangeli (Micheal V. Gazzo) asks for help dealing with the Rosato brothers. The Rosato bros work for Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg), a major investor of the mob. Michael does not want to ruin his relationship with Roth so he refuses to help Frank. That night, an attempt is made on Michael’s life, and he leaves to unravel who was involved.
- Past: Vito (who in adult form is played by Robert De Niro) is nine years old living in Corleone, Sicily. His family is murdered by the Mafia, and Vito escapes to America before they can take his life. In America, he takes on the last name of Corleone to represent his place of origin. He eventually marries, fathers children, and begins a life of crime to support his family. Fanucci, a local mobster, puts a lean on him requesting a cut of the proceeds from his smalltime thefts. Vito convinces others in his gang that he can convince Fanucci not to do it by “making him an offer he can’t refuse” (AKA, he’s going to die.)
The magic of these arcs is two fold: 1) the story arc of the past is simple and allows us to decompress from the tension of the present day; 2) the present day family is heading into a descent while we get to see the rise of family in the past.
If I had one complaint about Godfather Part I, it would be about myself — I need more RAM when watching film. There comes a tipping point in any film where I no longer can keep up with the new characters and juggle all the different motivations and subtle hints of what occurred. Most of the time this isn’t a problem as there are only so many people, but with Godfather Part I, there are easily 12 or so characters you need to have down pat to receive the full impact of the movie.
With Godfather II, I knew the biggest players already, so I was much more easily able to keep up with the subterfuge. I avoided the dreadful “why the hell did that happen” moment where you have to run to google to pick up the pieces. I did end up finding this video if you are still having trouble following the plot or want to condense an almost 3.5 hour movie to 11 minutes:
The past story arc further helped my feeble short-term memory. The present day has plenty of action while Vito’s past story is simpler and slower pace. This allowed me to decompress and think through the lies and fake outs that occur during the main storyline.
There are also more positives to this past story line than the utility of me being able to follow the plot better. It in and of itself it’s a good stand alone narrative and fills in important information for the Mafia lore. We get to see the beginning of Vito Corleone’s empire and how he coolly handles his problems, earning the respect of his family and community members. Michael clearly does not have that same respect, and it is obvious in his interactions and outcomes.
This movie ends in a bloodbath with Michael trying to maintain hold on his deteriorating kingdom. While we get to see the ascension of the Corleone family, we also get to see it’s demise. This two tiered story telling might not be for everyone, but I found it immensely useful in both story and delivery.
Other People’s Take:
- Isabelle Reviews Movies: “Michael has taken his power and been corrupted too far, and while that is the point of the second film, you don’t root for him like you did in the first film.”
- Film Fracas: “The Godfather Part II hurts us in observing how far a man can fall.”
- Crackdown Review: “Overall, The Godfather II is still the perfect film.”