MajesticArachne’s review published on Letterboxd:
While I don't think that The Godfather: Part II is a masterpiece like the first one and certainly not as enjoyable or emotionally moving, it is still an incredibly admirable film. I didn't think that the prequel-sequel schtick would work for me, but it really really did! Displaying Vito's rise to power while displaying Michael's fall from it is a stroke of genius, as it shows exactly why Vito is the true Godfather and why Michael will never be a good Don. One has compassion and cares for and creates his family; the other is ruthless, unforgiving, and tears his family apart. The film is also hauntingly shot; some images are going to stay in my head forever.
And the performances, my god the performances! Personally, Pacino and De Niro don't top Brando's legendary performance from the first, but they're still magnificent. I've only seen five of his performances, but I don't think that Pacino will ever be able to top this. Throughout the whole film, you can just see the life leaving his eyes. And of course there's THAT scene, which I wouldn't dare spoil for those who haven't seen it. De Niro gives probably my second favorite performance from him (Raging Bull being first), making Vito his own while staying true to the character and keeping that iconic voice. Everyone else is great, but Pacino and De Niro overshadow them completely.
There's no denying that the plot is complex. Most of the time, Coppola is able to make sense of it all for the audience and it's never too difficult to follow. But there is a lot going on, and with a film of this size and length, not everything was going to work. There are scenes throughout the film, interestingly all in Michael's time, that are much less engaging than others. It's not that the film-making is bad, but I just wasn't interested in all of it. Still, besides that and maybe an unnecessarily complex plot, The Godfather: Part II is an excellent film. But in the debate over whether part 1 or 2 is better, I have a clear answer.