The Godfather: Part II

The Godfather: Part II ★★★★½

94

"I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies."

Wow. Now this is a capital Movie if I've ever seen one: the Costco of cinema, if you will. Sporting a generous runtime of almost 3.5 hours, this film assures that you're most definitely buying in bulk. And, for the most part, this massive, epic structure really works — if not as purposeful or streamlined as its predecessor, it certainly has enough going for it to merit the status of masterpiece (and, of course, its famous 'best-ever sequel' badge). 

The fact remains, however, that Godfather's Part I and II are very different films: in structure, in narrative, in thematic purpose; and although I believe Part I delivers the slightly superior film in all three accounts, Part II is nonetheless a worthy continuation. The first installment was completely and whole-heartedly a character study, portraying the immensely compelling arc of Michael Corleone as he slowly morphs from patriotic war hero to the heir of his father's dark legacy. In Part II, Michael's internal journey is complete: the opening shot of the film exactly mirrors those of the first chapter, and reassure us that the young, trusting, good Michael is, without a doubt, gone completely. He is the Godfather. As such, Part II is much more plot focused: a film that begins as a complex political thriller, and slowly morphs into a tragedy of epic proportions.

If The Godfather portrayed the bloody turmoil necessary to pass on a legacy to the next generation, Part II continues in the same vein while upping the ante. The Corleone family suffered devastating losses in the first film, and here we see those who remain scattered as lesser individuals, pieces of a whole whose sum is greater than their parts. Michael is trying to maintain the business connections his father established, all the while desperate to keep his wife and children safe from the inherent danger of his occupation. Near the beginning of the film, Michael finds a drawing in his room, left for him by his daughter. Seconds later, his window explodes in a thunderous volley of gunfire as an attempt on his life is made, representing the fact that the line separating his domestic life from his business one is drawing ever narrower. 

This theme prevalent throughout the film, that of Michael's determination to protect his family, ties in with another thread Part II finds itself enthralled with: that of generational legacy, of father/son succession, of full circles of justice and revenge being completed and carried out with an air of pre-destined certainty. Vito Corleone brought the Family up from nothing and created a dynasty, and it is now the duty of Michael Corleone to act as steward until his son recieves his inheritance. This theme is played with for most of the film, but is finally fleshed out near the end, when (spoiler) Kay confesses to aborting Michael's son in an attempt to end this dynasty of perpetual violence. Up to this point, we've only seen one side of Michael: cool, calm, never visibly unsettled — but here, after receiving this news, something in him breaks, and put floods a torrent of pure fury that perfectly encapsulates his need to live up to his own father.

And so, the last hour (by far the best of the film) becomes a tragedy reminiscent of Shakespeare as we witness the collapse of the Corleone family. What makes this fall all the more sorrowful is the fact that it is, more or less, brought about by the actions of Michael himself, unable to live up to the legacy of Vito Corleone. Near the film's end, we see him sitting in his chair, in a position that calls to mind a throne and an emperor, and his face is completely shrouded in shadow. Gone is the split lighting of the first film, half of his face illuminated to represent his inner conflict; no, the old Michael is decidedly no more. And neither, in the end, is any kind of happy future.

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