Thomas Hwang’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Godfather: Part II continues the legacy of the series while also showing how it all began, making it much more ambitious than the original film. In having the flashback scenes, they show how the ambitions of the Corleone family have changed. Robert De Niro gives a compelling performance as young Vito, presenting him as a Robin Hood-type figure, a guy who kills his enemies, but does it out of respect for his associates and has happy dinners with his family still since that’s the main thing he cares about. This makes Michaels arc even sadder, as he has become a colder, distant leader, moving away from the values of family, the trust his father stood for and towards a mind of only business and power. He says he doesn’t feel he has to wipe out everyone, just his enemies, but even his friends become his enemies. He pushes everyone away in the interest of retaining his fathers legacy and succeeds in keeping the business alive, but at the cost of his humanity.
The flashbacks give great light to how the mafia corrupted the once happy Vito into the strategic, dark head of the family played by Brando that we see in the first movie. Making the family feel bigger than ever before and actually showing the concept of legacy, which is only hinted at in the first film, we see the burdens of the crime business, how it leads to a life of fear, betrayal and darkness, showing us a man before corruption with young Vito and after with Michael. I don’t even blame his wife for not wanting to keep the baby. The direction by Coppola is more confident, presenting a darker movie and a superior sequel.
Michael wanted nothing to do with the family and became a Marine, but as shown in the ending scene, his family rejects him, leaving him cold and alone at the dinner table as the rest of his family leaves him behind. He sits in his chair a broken man, a distant look in his eyes, mourning the sins of the past but knowing this is the life he has chosen and the burden he has taken on can never be unlifted. An emperor, sitting atop his empire, all alone. The perfect ending to the saga. Unfortunately, they made a third film and I heard it sucked. Knowing me, I’ll probably watch it. This movie is great though and cements the Godfather legacy in history in a way the first film could not.