The Godfather: Part II

The Godfather: Part II ★★★★★

"I didn't see Michael as a gangster. I saw his struggle as something that was connected to his intelligence." -Al Pacino

What makes a sequel great or worthy of existing? What do acclaimed sequels have in common? Is it better filmmaking techniques, an expanded sense of scale, improved effects? Well those things certainly help, but the one constant in all great sequels is that they knowingly and unknowingly comment on, deconstruct and if possible subvert their predecessor. The sequel is better by usurping the throne on which the original used to sit.

Think about it: The Dark Knight is a critique of Batman Begins where the former questions the extent of the hero's symbol, as if to say "Did Batman really think he had no limits? What if a criminal didn't fear him but was actually inspired by him? What does the chaos to his order look like?"
Spider-man 2 takes away Peter's great power exactly where he learned to use them in the first one; it piles greater responsibilities on Peter until he lets go in the same manner he first learnt to be responsible from Uncle Ben's car - hell even MJ's upside down kiss from the first film is somehow perverted when she does the same with Jameson's son.
Toy Story 2 pretty much says abandonment and obsolescence are a much worse fate for a toy than being replaced by a shinier toy.
Empire flips everything we thought about A New Hope by having the heroes fail, with the knowledge that the villain is family.
Even the self aware 22 Jump Street exposes the corporate thinktank of making duplicates of a successful original idea.

And then there's The Godfather Part 2, or simply "Part 2" as we say in my household. If Part 1 romanticized the mob as honorable men who treasure family above all, Part 2 strips this fantasy to show how paranoia, distrust and isolation are what awaits anyone in this life. While Part 1 had Brando's Vito be this mystical man of power stroking his cat, Part 2 introduces him as a slow-witted orphan with smallpox named Andolini (some immigration official who couldn't be bothered to spell "Andolini" named him after his Sicilian town of "Corleone"). Indeed, De Niro's Vito is depicted as a working class immigrant who treated his associates with respect - until he murders Fanucci in cold blood and returns to his family to watch a parade. Nothing like that larger-than-life Vito in 1 who always had others "make his irrefusable offers"

Vito is contrasted with Michael who deludes himself with his attempt to make mob business legitimate. It's as if Mike forgot that this "business" has a market where it is fair game to kill one's competition. There are no rules against killing rivals; there are no regulations that serve as oversight like they would in an actual legitimate business. You can't legitimize organized crime because it defeats the purpose of legitimacy; neither can you buy yourself out of a life time of sin by going straight. So Michael's calculated pragmatism is just him embracing more coldness and lethality. Michael's cool-headedness may be preferable to us over the hot-bloodedness of a Frank Pentangelli for example, but that's only because Pacino's performance almost convinces us that Mike will come through successful. Pentangelli is old skool, emotional and embraces the traditional ways of doing things; he bleeds red. Michael is cold capitalist efficiency who is too logical to the point of killing a family relative just to send a message; he bleeds green.

We might have felt a righteous victory when Michael "settled all family business" in the first movie's finale montage, but there's just something eerily unsatisfying about Michael taking out his enemies like Hyman Roth, Pentangelli and Fredo. It looks like our antihero has won.....but there's no catharsis we can feel like we did before. Oh and before you get tired of the word "deconstruction", notice the juxtaposition of the family dinner scenes in both movies......notice how Part 2's scene inverts Part 1 by leaving Michael lonely. We're left hollow with disgust and no true closure, Kay doesn't even get to kiss Anthony one last time before Michael shuts the door. Coppola denies us satisfaction at every turn, he doesn't even give us a pyrrhic victory. The madman made a prequel-sequel to flip his original masterpiece. The mob isn't some cool fantasy we're supposed to idolize.

Al Pacino as Michael is perhaps American cinema's greatest character arc? Dude is a freaking vampire in this one; a pallid unfeeling Count Dracula. Remember when he was just quiet vulnerability waiting to go HAM in the 70s? Before his older, weathered, vulgar braggadocio grumpy self? It was Scarface that changed his trajectory, wasn't it? Actually I think the scene where he attacks Kay was a sign of performances to come.

Oh if I hadn't made it abundantly clear to you, I'm a Part 2 kinda guy, no disrespect to Part 1!

P.S When characters keep saying "wet my beak", I just burst out laughing uncontrollably.

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