Jackson’s review published on Letterboxd:
While a lot of the same compared to its predecessor, Part II is presented with higher highs and lower lows. Honing in the focus, the audience now only is primarily shown the lives of Michael and a young Vito Corleone. Despite a more quaint character focus, Coppola opts to add nearly half an hour more of content compared to the first installation in the series. Going back and forth between early foundations of the Corleone family and what seems to be another near miss with death for the family and its Godfather serves to add something special not present in the previous film and also decides to add an intermission three hours in which compliments the grandiose and epic nature of the film.
In the plot of The Godfather Part II, the film picks up five years after the first film as Michael has established himself as a reputable and strong Don of the Corleone Family. As he seems to make more enemies and his friends become lest trustworthy, Michael is overcome by paranoid thoughts and turns inward until almost everyone close to him is just as far away from his as his own enemies. Complimenting this quasi-conspiracy drama is the flashback to the early days of Vito Corleone as he fends for himself and builds strong relationships with others in New York.
Just like The Godfather, Part II explores similar themes of morality and the blurry boundary of people’s choices and their interests. Michael is incredibly hesitant about his allies and frequently bases his actions off of instinctual judgments. This leads to quicker deaths — that is the time between suspicion and actual response. Part II also takes a closer look at concepts of family and friends; comparing them to wartime allies. The brotherly love evident through Sonny and Tom in the first film is completely absent in sentiment as Michael treats his family like business partners, seeking only to benefit through their strength among the organized crime underworld. People are more frequently commended for their credibility than their character and the notion of family in the eyes of the Corleone family is undermined by this stark and business-oriented approach from Michael. This is contrasted by the story with Vito which seemingly contrasts the essence of Michael’s role as the Godfather. This betrayal of character and juxtaposition further illustrates Michael’s downward spiral.
With a lot of the cast being returning, the acting is kept at a consistent quality. The focus is shifted though as the audience is given a stronger introduction to Corleone brother Fredo and Tom Hagan’s relationship with Michael is heightened as well. These two relationships with Michael serve as the driving forces for Corleone’s actions and bring about a pretty great performance from Pacino, easily topping his performance in the previous film as the previous establishment of his character allows for more intimate scenes with Michael. The obvious standout of this film though is Robert De Niro playing a young Vito Corleone; building off of Brando’s performance, De Niro is perfect for the role and in my opinion outdoes Brando’s portrayal of the notorious gangster. One glaring absence is notable in this film and that is the character Clemenza who is only alluded to in the film as a result of disagreements between Castellano and Paramount Pictures.
As previously mentioned, the weaknesses of the last film are seemingly emphasized in this film. The film is needlessly long with quite a few scenes feeling very unnecessary. The beginning of Michael’s arc is incredibly slow and follows very little structure compared to the story of Vito. The stakes are greater in this film as plots with the Cuban government, expansion, and the political business alluded to in the previous film are given time on the table. The Cuban plot feels incredibly unnecessary and quite a few of Michael’s other excursions in the film are equally as uninteresting.
On the other hand, though, there are some excellent parts of the film as well. Vito story is amazing and I was always looking forward to the next segment of his story. De Niro is just excellent and the pacing of his rise to power is portrayed in such an amazing way. I love the subtlety of his actions and mannerisms and how he responds to the world around him. It would have been nice to have a little bit more closure in the character as the time between this film and the previous leaves a bit out between the two, but Vito’s journey to vengeance is amazing and directed near perfection. The score is also developed upon in this film and I love how it’s incorporated into the film whether it be played on the organ during a first communion or sung on the street.
There’s quite a bit to love about the film as it provides the audience with a bit more closure in regards to ambiguous endings in the first film and tells an excellent prequel-esque story of Vito Corleone, but the film’s 202-minute runtime is easily realized halfway through and the mixture of quality between the two stories is quite disappointing. Coppola definitely knows how to direct though and the acting is great all-around. It’d just be nicer if it was a little more concise.