The Godfather II Review

Origin stories have drowned out the originality of the big-budget feature. Nowadays, everything, whether it is a supporting riff from an old legend or a leading role of an established franchise, needs an origin story. Before it was hip and resourceful to do so, though, The Godfather II took a portion of the Mario Puzo book, The Godfather, and siphoned it off into a sequel. While it may open with a mother’s love for her young boy and the lengths she will go to in defending him, the real core of The Godfather II is that the gut instinct of those threatened by the young boy is correct. It is a common occurrence in The Godfather. Instinct is the unmovable object, and it is that which The Godfather II bases itself on.

As the newly anointed Don of the Corleone family, Michael (Al Pacino) tears through the new regime and struggles to guide the hand of a fractured family. But that is the modern age of the 1950s. Francis Ford Coppola turns his direction to a story of founding the family, with a starring role for Robert De Niro that sees the formation of the Corleone family business. It is the 1910s and the clashes and comparisons with the 1950s that make for such an interesting feature. How one man builds himself up and replicates the business his father built, while audiences can see that early process as Michael finds his footing. Puzo didn’t do that in the book, instead dedicating a chapter or two to the early years of Vito Corleone (De Niro). The impact is profound and stuns the ensemble exceptionally well.

But to balance such large stories is a difficult incline and a slippery slope. Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) features prominently, thankfully, but the dwindling faith he and Michael have in one another is never fully realised. They are not quite at odds, but the build-up is there. It is well defined and draws on the very best versatilities of each performer. Diane Keaton, Talia Shire and John Cazale are equally as effective, their performances spilling into one another with incredible results. The Cuban Revolution and the big reveal that follows is stunning. Pacino and Cazale steal the spotlight from an otherwise perfect De Niro, who does well to wrap up the loose ends, though few, from the first feature with a backstory that builds Vito Corleone as a force to be reckoned with.

Where it was never going to be as perfect as the first, The Godfather II has few, if any flaws to it. Inheriting the character lessons founded by that stunning Marlon Brando performance, Pacino takes up the reigns successfully and carries this sequel to new and exciting territories. You cannot beat the classics though. Where it worked well for the book, The Godfather, this sequel piece struggles to combine the old and new, however grand the impact may be. In metaphors and anecdotes, it is presented well, but the blend of Pacino and De Niro is still a janky one. Its message gets through just fine, but practically, it stutters from time to time. Perhaps that is the benefit of the standalone piece, and had The Godfather II released in this day and age, a spin-off sequel, miniseries and several more adaptations would follow to convince audiences of every nook and cranny.

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