Kirai’s review published on Letterboxd:
The second instalment of The Godfather trilogy is widely accepted as the best sequel ever made. And it certainly is. But calling it 'just' the best sequel isn't doing it justice at all. It stands alongside the first film as one of the greatest films of all time and possibly even the greatest. I think both should hold the same spot in the conversation for 'the best ever' title, so I'm not going to compare them, although I rate Part II a bit higher.
The Godfather is so ingrained in pop culture of the past 50 years that it's impossible for any film, let alone its successor, to not be compared and eclipsed by it. It is the most iconic film of all time and pretty much everyone has run into something referencing it. Some scenes are so iconic that many people know details about them before having even seen the film. Part II certainly isn't as legendary and quoted as Part I, but it is just as good.
Instead of the tightly written and large-scale but intimate crime drama, we get a massively epic two-part saga that juxtaposes its portrayals of the romantic rise of one gangster and the cold and clinical descend into evil of another with unmatched grandness. The film masterfully contrasts Vito's idyllic, gold-tinted success in New York and Sicily with the bleak, joyless moral tragedy of Michael. DeNiro's and Pacino's opposing performances elevate both parts of the story more than anything. This film is a tragic drama about Michael Corleone, not about organized crime.
Coppola's directing is once again pitch-perfect. Most scenes are shot at shoulder/eye level, with very few (if any) zooms and flashy camera movement. Each movement of the camera and the actors is carefully planned and never brings attention to itself. Such elegant & polished cinematography and blocking makes the film very naturalistic. Goodfellas may be more faithful in illustrating the real mafia and realistic, and many other gangster films probably are as well, but none of them feels more 'real' than The Godfathers.
Another thing that this film does better than anything else is the production design. The Godfather: Part II's production design is the best in the history of cinema. The film takes place in 1900s Sicily, 1920s New York and Sicily, 1950s Nevada, New York, Florida and Havana and looks impeccable for every second. The most impressive one is 1920s New York. It's simply mind-blowing. Every shot of the streets and apartments looks like Coppola made a time machine and teleported the whole crew to the actual 1920s. The colour saturation also contributes to the contrasts of the 2 parts of the story. Vito's story looks so warm and idyllic, whereas Michael's world is constantly grim and cold, devoid of any pleasant colours and joy, as is Michael himself. The cinematography deserves a mention as well. Never flashy, but so unique and elegant that its style is instantly recognizable. The 2 Godfathers are a lesson for anyone interested in the usage of lighting on sets.
All the visual and thematic juxtaposition and build-up leads up to the perfect, tragic ending. The baptism climax from the first film might be the greatest scene ever filmed, but the last 10 minutes of Part II are just as good. It's also the most brilliant use of flashbacks ever. So many emotional, thematic, moral and cinematic layers. A sequel like this, never again. No other work of art rivals the sheer grandeur and scale of The Godfather: Part II.
Let's pretend this is the 3rd film and say that it is the best ending to any story ever.
It's remarkable just how good it manages to work as a sequel without several main characters of its predecessor, including Vito Corleone, who everyone associates with the term Godfather. Thankfully it has plenty of memorable characters to spare. The actor who plays Clemenza left the project due to disagreements with the studio and was replaced by Michael V. Gazzo. It's a good thing he did - because Frank Pentangeli is one of the best characters in the trilogy, and Gazzo's performance is Oscar-worthy (he actually lost to DeNiro).
So which cast is better? The first or the second? I still have to go with the first. As Kubrick said, it has the greatest cast ever assembled, and it's hard to argue with that. I can't see any future film being more 'well-acted' than The Godfather. No Scorsese, Tarantino, PTA or any other film has ever gotten closer than arm-length distance. Except one. That film being The Godfather: Part II. Instead of Brando we have DeNiro, in what I consider his career-best performance (haven't seen Raging Bull yet), who makes young Vito more believable than anyone else could. Then there's the aforementioned Gazzo in a show-stealing performance as Frank Pentangeli, who adds a lot of heart and humanity to the Michael-centered part of the film. John Cazale is also given a much more significant role to shine in. Oscar-nominated Lee Strasberg, who, from my knowledge, wasn't a big acting name, does an impeccable job as Hyman Roth.
And the finest one of them all, who ups his level even higher than in Part I, is Al Pacino. I consider Michael Corleone to be the best character ever portrayed on screen, and I consider Pacino's performance in Part II as the best performance of all time. It's astonishing to me that he didn't win an Oscar. DeNiro fully deserved his Best Supporting Actor award, but Pacino didn't just deserve his - he fucking blew everyone else out of the water. Even when he isn't talking, when he's just sitting still and looking straight, the difference between Michael Corleone in the majority of the first film and Michael Corleone in Part II is astonishing. Pacino did more acting with his eyes in one look than most actors dream of doing in their entire careers.
The music is similar to the first film, but still quite a lot different. Maybe even better. Certainly more epic and sweeping. The iconic central theme is given a lot of variations here despite remaining very similar. It's one of the best soundtracks ever composed. Just listening to it makes you feel important. Find me one theme that captures and elevates the tone and gravity of the entire film better than Nino Rota's masterpiece.
I don't know how to casually include these scenes in the review, but I want to talk about them, so I'll just randomly list them here. These scenes should hold the same legendary status as the ones from Part I. There are several other amazing ones, but these are the very peak.
Michael discovers the traitor - eventhough we know who the traitor is, the close-up of Michael's reaction still makes the full gravity of the scene kick in
The hotel argument Vito confronting Don Fanucci - If any scene captures the majestic scope of this film, it is this one.
The final ~10 minutes - (The link obviously contains spoilers). I've seen this film 2 times before and only now realised how incredible the ending is. The entirety of the last 10 minutes, perfection in every way. Maybe not as cinematic and cathartic as the baptism scene from Part I, but I can't think of anything more powerful & enthralling in the most tragic and coldest way possible.
Not sure what the hell was I thinking by not putting it in the top 10 of my Best scenes list , it's the perfect ending.
I could list almost every flawless scene, but might as well just post the whole film.
Also, I just have to mention this. Why is almost every single popular letterboxd review for this film about young Al Pacino and DeNiro being hot? I don't expect everyone to be Roger Ebert, but I get second-hand embarrassment from reading that shit. And the thousands of people who liked those reviews were like 'yeah, this is great'. Anyways...
The Godfather: Part II is one of the most outstanding filmmaking achievements. A film that excels and sweeps on so many different levels. Flawless in every sense of the word. Some people are still put off by its 3h 22min runtime, but they shouldn't be. The extra-long runtime is absolutely necessary, as this film's monumental scope is so overwhelmingly grandiose that even the 3.5h runtime can't fully do it justice. You can't tell a story this massive in under 3 hours. It touches upon so many themes, characters and subplots. Just sit back and immerse yourself in the pinnacle of storytelling, directing, lighting, production design and acting. The greatest film of all time (?)