Just when you thought the Corleones couldn’t get any more iconic, along came 1974’s The Godfather Part II – arguably an even more sprawling and ambitious follow-up that earns its reputation as one of the greatest sequels ever made.
Returning director Francis Ford Coppola expands the story into two equally gripping timelines, juxtaposing the origins of a young Vito Corleone in 1920s New York with Michael Corleone ruthlessly expanding his Nevada empire in the late 1950s. Weaving these parallel family dramas together into an epic tapestry, Coppola delivers a sequel that equals, if not tops, the artistic mastery of the original.
Vito’s Humble Roots
The Godfather Part II fleshes out Vito Corleone’s backstory as an orphaned Sicilian child who immigrates to America in 1901 and rises from the slums by building a New York crime syndicate based on loyalty and respect. Robert De Niro gives a standout performance as the young Vito, showcasing his clipped, slyly menacing demeanor years before becoming the feared yet fair mob patriarch Marlon Brando portrayed.
Watching Vito eliminate local Black Hand boss Fanucci and ingeniously seize control of the neighborhood provides riveting insight into how the Corleone family came to power. These meticulously detailed scenes of Little Italy in the 1910s-20s are a stunning recreation of a long-lost world.
Michael’s Dark Path
In 1958-59, Michael has relocated the family business to Lake Tahoe, serving as behind-the-scenes Don of the expansive Corleone syndicate while trying to legitimize its casino operations. But dramatic betrayals within Michael’s inner circle hint that he’s inherited his father’s talent for ruthlessness, causing his moral decline to accelerate.
Al Pacino oozes quiet menace in a performance that builds intricately on his Oscar-nominated role in the prior film. Watching cold and calculating Michael unleash his full fury against enemies even closer than he realizes makes for utterly captivating drama. The supporting cast, including Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton, continue imbuing this criminal empire with human complexity.
Gordon Willis’ shadowy cinematography and Dean Tavoularis’ rich production design make both eras spring to vivid life with palpable atmosphere and Coppola’s direction remains masterful in weaving this operatic family saga. While the 1900s scenes were actually shot in Canada and Sicily, you’d never know watching the bustling streets of Little Italy come alive.
Nino Rota’s beautiful score links the dual storylines while the indelible casting keeps performances fresh yet consistent with the prior film. Coppola expanded on Mario Puzo’s source novel to craft a sequel that equals the momentous scope of the original while exploring Michael’s subtle corruption and disintegration. Even at 3.5 hours, this multi-generational portrait never falters.
Featuring two storylines that enhance each other brilliantly, The Godfather Part II lives up to its Best Picture Oscar win with acting, writing and technical mastery worthy of the Corleone name. It continues the family’s mythology while digging into its central themes, allowing us to chart Michael’s Shakespearean fall over time and understand the mob world that created him.
Coppola’s astounding sequel/prequel leaves the viewer awed, thoughtful and wanting more – the hallmarks of an all-time great film that raises the bar for other sequels. The legend well and truly continues.