The Godfather Part II is a movie whose thesis is nearly lost in the complexities of its subject matter. This is exactly what happened in the original, but the ‘problem’ is amplified here because of one of the dual storylines. Vito Corleone is a much more interesting character this time around, despite his mass presence in The Godfather. The origin story approach for the sequel was an inspired decision, but it makes Michael’s continued saga seem less impressive than it was in the first movie. He’s no longer the innocent bystander turned crime boss – that’s Vito’s role now – he’s a madman losing his grip on the family. The reinforcement of the final moments of The Godfather, where Michael closes the doors on his wife, effectively making the choice he swore he wouldn’t at the start of the film, and losing himself to crime, was played out logically, but somewhat messily.

Organized crime as a subject matter brings with it a need to delve into complications of family, betrayal, justice, and business, and these are tropes akin to cyberpunk’s artificial intelligences, body modifications, and virtual realities. Because The Godfather was the movie that revised the previously very pulpy genre of crime fiction, it was the original serious crime drama. It introduced to the world those tropes, and since The Godfather Part II came only two years later, the filmmakers didn’t think much in the ways of post-modernism when the modern was so recent. So The Godfather Part II embodies these affairs, and finds Michael involved in hearings and playing families against each other and being betrayed. In premise, all of the these things are good and necessary: they create the plot and give a reason for Michael’s decline. But for the movewatcher like me, they also create situations that don’t click.

All too often in the movie do the characters go deeper and deeper into the complications of the genre staples, and scenes of dialogue that are necessary to the plot stretch out the length and tamper with the pacing. Alone, this wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It would be a slightly overly complex movie that nearly dilutes the main theme. But when each scene involving Vito Corleone is so tight and obviously important to its story arc, Michael’s overall three-quarters of the film appears bloated.

If The Godfather Part II was entirely Vito Corleone’s rise to power, and The Godfather Part III was Michael’s continuing saga ending in the death of Fredo and Michael again closing the door on his wife, that would be perfect. Plans for The Godfather Part III apparently were to repeat the formula in Part II, but with Tom Hagen’s origin story. That didn’t happen, but I don’t know what did because I haven’t seen the third installment, arguable the most infamous sequel ever. I think that the parallel between Vito and Michael would be more profound over two movies, rather than just blatant within the confines of a single movie. Overall, The Godfather Part II is probably an unecessary movie afterall, as it doesn’t say a whole lot new. I’m glad it does exist though, because it’s a better watch than the first, and the first was already famously good.

I would also contrast The Godfather Part II with Goodfellas, as the Martin Scorsese mob flick is very streamlined, despite having a comparable number of characters and relationships mixing and interacting. Goodfellas also has a similar theme, where the family dynamic between goodfellas in the end doesn’t mean shit because everyone’s looking out for themselves in a world that’s organized to be violent. People losing themselves to the life of crime that comes with money and power is shared across both movies, but Goodfellas played out much more straightforwardly, and benefitted. Ultimately the Michael bits are overly complicated for their purpose, but this has to be because the genre walls are two strict.

The original Godfather has a plot that could not be told many other ways and still arrive at the end point with the same level of understanding for where each character is. The intent for The Godfather Part II is to further Michael’s story, showing how he is driving his family into the ground in his attempt to drive it forward. More importantly, we see how his character is deteriorating, which was implied at the close of the first movie. Because the first bit, the family matters, is so crucial to the second, we need all this stuff about business relations and assassinations and deals. Unfortunately, it could be done any number of ways, and I think the most effective would be an approach similar to Goodfellas – show us just what we need to see, otherwise we could get distracted, and even the parallel between Vito and Michael is made less obvious than the film’s structure would propose.

Not a major problem, and certainly not one everyone would have, but I think it’s an interesting thing to see where a filmmaker will place focus on – the themes or the plot. In the long run, the overdone plot of The Godfather Part II makes it seem a bit draggy, where the first certainly was not. Whenever 50’s era New York came on screen I kind of shifted in my seat, waiting for the next time we could see Robert DeNiro, because his story was more interesting and less complicated.