Jim Dooley’s review published on Letterboxd:
THE GODFATHER, PART II, is often cited as the perfect example of a sequel that exceeded the original. I fear that I can’t agree. For me, the “perfect” example would be STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN.
That is not to say that THE GODFATHER, PART II is not an excellent movie. It is. In fact, I think that the over arching theme is much stronger in the sequel. But, the story just flowed in THE GODFATHER and took me along for the ride. The film’s almost 3-hour running time just rushed by.
In THE GODFATHER, PART II, I was constantly reorienting myself as scenes changed. Was I in the Vito Corleone story or the Michael Coreleone story? (Ah, the clothes look like something out of the 1920’s. This must Vito’s story. Yes, there’s Robert De Niro! This is Vito’s story.) The back and forth time changes were distracting.
THE GODFATHER, PART II plunges headlong into the realm of Shakespearean tragedy. The first film showed Michael Corleone losing his soul. In this film, he loses his last shred of humanity. He is immersed in the “It’s only business” excuse, and while he cites the importance of family, he is unaware of the “when convenient” condition that he adds to that importance.
Al Pacino is riveting as Michael. His hooded eyes look like a vulture constantly sizing up prey, and he is terrifying when angry. Robert De Niro beautifully fleshes out Vito, providing the Viewer with a complete understanding of the influences and motivations of Marlon Brando’s portrayal in the first film. He captures that sense of keeping us fascinated by his actions even when they are of criminal intent ... a feeling of empathy that permeated the first film.
Diane Keaton’s role was more thankless in the first movie. Here, she shines. Her revelation to Michael was devastating, and I loved the echoing of the door closing from the first movie.
John Cazale also comes into his own in this movie. There wasn’t a lot for Fredo to do in THE GODFATHER. Here, he deftly moves the plot forward with his heartbreaking portrayal of a man who only wants to achieve some respect ... both from others and from himself ... and has no idea of how to do it.
Although there were moments in THE GODFATHER when it seemed it would be exciting to be a participant in the Corleone Family story, it is a bleak tale that unfolds in THE GODFATHER, PART II. Even the excitement of Havana ultimately sets up the chaos of the revolution, and the wheeling of political influence descends into Senate Committee hearings.
When I finished THE GODFATHER, PART II, I had been put through an emotional wringer. The film has an Intermission and it needs one to prepare the Viewer for what is coming. It is a powerful experience.