Carson Schilling’s review published on Letterboxd:
AFI Top 100: #32
It would seem to anyone in their right mind that a sequel to one of the greatest films of the 20th-century would not be so good of an idea. However, Francis Ford Coppola wasted no time diving right back into the story of the Corleone crime family and in nearly flawless ways, might I add. The Godfather: Part II is a remarkable film that continues on the story paved out in its predecessor in ways that I was never expecting. The story of Michael and the Corleone crime family is far from finished and I was truly taken on a journey that I never would have guessed to feel so justified. However, as different and as unique as this sequel is from the first film, I could not entirely get into Michael's story as much as I had hoped. This personal gripe was never too overbearing, though, and Coppola's writing and direction continue to amaze me. From the excellent performances to the creative structure that Coppola went with, this film will rightfully and undeniably go down in history as probably the greatest and most necessary sequel ever made.
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is rising into the role of Don after the passing of his father and he begins to experience the true nature of leadership and the relentless pursuit of power that comes with it. As Michael damages his personal relationships as well as the ones with his enemies, this film also explores the younger days of his father Vito (Robert De Niro) and how he created one of New York's most infamous crime families. Coppola and Mario Puzo's writing throughout this story is my absolute favorite part of this entire film. This second addition to the Corleone story touches on many things that the first did not have much time to do. In particular, this film focuses on Michael and young Vito in more personable ways than the first and really explores their psyches to get the audience to even better understand where they are coming from. I learned so much more about Michael's true motivations in this film than I did from the first and I think the script does a fantastic job of effortlessly conveying that. I might have had a bit harder time connecting with the characters this time around due to the less condensed form of the movie but the development in the main protagonists continues to be excellent. Other elements I adored about The Godfather: Part II were its focus on Michael's marital life and his relationship with his brother Fredo (John Cazale). Throughout this film, Michael's character falls even deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of ostracizing himself from the people he supposedly loves but what is so great is how these revelations felt inherent. The falling-out of his marriage and the backstabbing that occurs with his brother makes the shared scenes by the actors so incredibly heartbreaking. This also leads the way for some phenomenal performances from the entire cast. Pacino is obviously wonderful but the addition of De Niro and the larger role for Cazale blew me away. De Niro nails the young Marlon Brando with ease and Cazale reaches heights that a supporting, brotherly character is usually not able to. These actors are just some examples of the greatest of their generation and they made their roles so easy to fall in love with.
Coppola's direction in this film is also something to marvel at and the way he plays with structure was so compelling. One of the most subtle yet interesting things I noticed about this film was how it mirrors the first in so many ways while also being entirely its own thing. In The Godfather, there are two different stories being bounced back and forth: that of Vito struggling with power from the families in New York and that of Michael hiding out in Sicily waiting to return home. The Godfather: Part II continues this trend, as it focuses on Michael and Vito in the same way, only their roles are completely swapped. Michael is now the one fighting to restore his family's name and Vito is the one first rising to power. Flashbacks seemed like a silly idea to me at first but the way Coppola executed these dual stories was outstanding. It never missed a beat with what you would expect from this cast of characters and its tone never faltered either. The excellent music and cinematography continue to make these films visual treats and I am surprised more than anything at how easily this film flows from its predecessor. The editing in this film from the returning Peter Zinner, as well as Barry Malkin and Richard Marks, is not quite as extraordinary as the first one but they still prove to be experts in so many scenes that require those precise cuts to emotionally resonate. My only minor issue with this film was its reliance on the court cases to drive the story further. I will never be a fan of court-heavy films because I am not big-brained enough to keep up with the banter but while this film did dip its toes into that genre quite a bit, it was thankfully not enough to sway away my interest. I am just so glad that this film was not a rehash of the first because if it was, it would have been much less exciting to watch. The Godfather: Part II takes so many leaps and bounds within its world that felt so natural and the built contrast between older Michael and older Vito from the first film becomes even more prevalent in the most enticing ways possible.
The Godfather: Part II is undoubtedly the most worthy sequel I have ever seen and one that takes risks in ways that I could not have predicted. Although the story at the end of the first felt powerful enough, my mind was completely changed when I realized how much more story there was to tell. Pacino, De Niro, and Cazale are all absolutely brilliant in this movie and it's obvious to see why they skyrocketed to stardom and into being some of the finest actors alive. Coppola also continues to prove he is one of the finest filmmakers of his generation and although I might not have been too impressed by a lot of his other works, this franchise is inarguably his magnum opus.