Caul’s review published on Letterboxd:
Here the second movie doesn't go for bigger and better, but a different stage in Michael's life and how he no longer has anyone to hold him back and the depths he will go to. While the first movie was about how Michael was corrupted this shows how he corrupts those around him and eventually tyrannically controls his own family. Early on he gives his sister an ultimatum when she wants to marry a stranger, though he doesn't say it outright it is still understood. Stay here and I'll take care of you, or you're out, cut off. He tells his brother that he never has to apologize to him, but once he's betrayed by him, there's no going back no matter how repentant Fredo is. You can see in Michael the devastation from Fredo's betrayal what we in the first movie saw in Vito when he was told what became of Michael once he got home from the hospital. Michael's sense of betrayal grow as people in his criminal family turn on him, but the last straw is when Kay tells him about the abortion as this is the only time he has lost control, both of his temper and the situation. The scene that really cements it is at the funeral when Connie comes to see him, there is now no one to sway him and we can see the control he has over his family by the way he sends his own children out of the room just by looking at them. They're like trained dogs. And throughout we can even see this change on Michael physically as he slowly but gradually starts looking more and more sick as if filled with black bile.
The characters and actors are the highlight of this movie, it's all so well played and naturalistic. The courtroom scene where Michael gives his statement could be taken out of context and be presented as the real thing. It's a shame it didn't work out with Clemenza's actor as I believe the betrayal would have a greater impact, though Gazzo gives an incredible performance and has some of the best line deliveries in the series. Al Neri gets some more depths to his character,though he's still mostly a background character he does such a good job in the acting that he comes of as one of the most cold and coolest characters in movie history played without any theatrics what so ever. Though even he doesn't become as heartless as Michael as we can see in his eyes when Michael hugs Fredo, looks him in the eyes and he knows what's to come. Connie has a great transformation as she eventually takes over the mother's and Kay's role as the only woman in Michael's life that he might listen to. This is where it's obvious she is not as stupid as Fredo, she might turn a blind eye, but I do believe she knows what's up and the role she put herself in. De Niro is also great but his pauses between each line of dialogue, that's very characteristic to him, once noticed it's hard not to think of. Though Brando did not reprise his role, his presence is felt and he bookends the film by showing an indentation in his chair in the first scene and having him off screen in the next to last being cheered for as he comes home.
It's not quite as dark as it's predecessor visually, though it still has scenes here and there where we can see the blackness of different objects seep into each other. And it even has the same jump from darkness to the bright outside with light and music as we saw in part 1.
And just as in part 1 the sets, especially with this lighting, look absolutely fantastic. And the recreated streets of 1920-30's New York are an impressive sight.
I keep flip-flopping as to what is my favorite out of the two, and while I do think they are completely equal I'd have to say part 1 this time. Before it was 2, and next time it might change back again. That's not for an flaws of either of them but really just how I feel about them at that very moment and is not really worth contemplating or comparing.