The Godfather Part II (1974): A misuse of the word ‘Masterpiece’.
Will someone explain to me why this film is regarded as the greatest sequel of all time by many, and seen as the third greatest film ever by even more?
I, for one, cannot understand how it went on to gain such high status. Perhaps it was the use of a ‘prequel’ format, in addition to an innovative style, that created its long-held popularity. However, I found watching this slow-paced film a laborious task, which resulted in several desperate glances at the time on my watch.
The film shows the audiences two stories: Young Vito Corleone’s (Robert DeNiro) rise to power during the 1920s in New York, as he builds his empire. The other story is that of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) during the 1950s, as he attempts to expand the family business he inherited from his father, Vito, at the end of the previous instalment. This clever format of the film allows it to act as both a prequel and sequel, by drawing parallels between the lives of the father and his son. For this unique take on how to continue the series, it deserves humongous praise. We see that what made Michael and Vito the men they are is the same: they both lost the ones they loved most, they both killed as an act of vengeance, and both ended up on a path which led them to command the most powerful crime organisation in the world.
The formerly mentioned story, that of Vito Corleone I can agree is a true masterpiece. It may even be the best rags to riches story ever put on screen. We see how Vito escapes Sicily as a refugee, arriving in New York penniless, and how he works his way up from the ghettos to the top of society. His story is the quintessential American dream. There is an iconic seen in which we see the ship arriving in America, with Vito as a young boy looking up at the statue of liberty, and towards the new life that awaits him. This actually mirrors the experience of real immigrants who came to America during the early 20th century by ship, whose first sight of the country would have been Lady Liberty. To accompany the scenes in which we follow Vito Corleone’s life story is a soundtrack, that perfectly compliments the aspirational venture we see Vito pursuing.
Unfortunately, these scenes comprise less than half the film, and the audience spends more time with Michael Corleone in the 1950s. This is why the film cannot be considered a masterpiece, as majority of the running length is wasted on this vastly inferior story. This story is unbearably slow paced and convoluted. It is noticeable what director Coppola was trying to show here; that Michael’s paranoia will cause him to descend into depravity. However, this is unnecessary. By the conclusion of the prior film, the audiences had already seen Michael take a dark path. Even if Michael’s story is being continued, with the audience seeing him lose even more of his innocence, it should only occupy the smaller half of this film due it being redundant. As the film is centred on the drawn-out scenes of this story, it makes it a chore to sit through.
In all fairness, this film could have been a masterpiece. If this three-and-a-half-hour epic was nearly all Vito Corleone’s rags to riches journey and how he accomplished the American dream, with only a dose of Michael story (which would still need a greater plot), it could be the greatest sequel of all time. Sadly, however, despite this film conceptualising the perfect idea for a sequel (a flashback story and continuation story) it failed to live up to its potential.