‘Disappointment’ is a relative word – all it says it that a thing isn’t amazing; it isn’t as good as your expectations without really saying much about the intrinsic quality of the thing per se. But, how does a film directed by the same guy who made The Godfather and Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola), co-written by Mario Puzo, starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Robert Duvall and lauded by critics well worth their salt as one of the greatest things that happened to the cinematic world manage to be disappointing?
It’s not very difficult, actually. Here’s how.
1. Characters are unimpressive
An interesting feature about the original Godfather was that it elevated its characters from being mere vessels to carry a plot and placed them on a pedestal of higher importance.
This is where Godfather 2 meets it first pitfall. Barely anyone in the film, with the exception of Fredo and Frank Pentangelli to an extent, manage to leave a lasting impression. Most characters are indistinct and bland; milquetoast even. There is a featureless, unnamed bodyguard, an ineffectual Senator and an aging, gutless antagonist amongst others who drift in and out like mere shadows. The Godfather gave birth to people (pun unintended) like Luca Brasi, Sonny, Sollozzo, Johnny Fontane and a plethora of others. Godfather 2 unfortunately, does not follow suit, with its cast having been cut out of an entirely different cloth. It is like a stage with Michael is basking in the spotlight and everyone is reduced to props in the act.
2. Déjà vu
The end of part 1 showed the ruthless alter-ego of Michael, when he murders all his enemies in a cold-blooded manner. Godfather 2 offers a dishearteningly similar conclusion. There is a deception involving someone close with that Judas being killed eventually (Tessio in part 1), a family member is killed by the family too (Carlo Rizzi in part 1), the enemies are topped off before they realize what hit them (Sollozzo, Barzini and Tattaglia in part 1), which is more or less precisely what happened in the predecessor, resulting in an induced seen-this-before feeling.
3. Rubber band
Irrespective of how good a movie is, watching it for over 200 minutes does get exhausting and especially so when it is intellectually consuming. Added to that is the fact that the movie features plenty of superfluous, unnecessary scenes. Entire ten minute-long parts can be lopped off without causing noticeably mutilating the movie.
The story further exacerbates the case. Through the farrago of people, guns, blood and Mafioso hardballing, all that the film consists of is two not-very-ethical guys trying to kill each other. This weak plotline does not carry the raw power that the original Godfather brought with it.
4. Michael is not Vito
Vito Corleone is perhaps one of the most charismatic fictional characters created. Michael is nowhere close. Vito is a man of respect, who believes in certain virtues, who only took to crime because it was a matter of survival and truly deserved the title of the Godfather. Michael Corleone, is comparison, is a blood-thirsty hound whose only catharsis is taking lives. He commits atrocities his father would have abhorred – killing family members, indulging in violence uncalled for, whacking and deserting his wife – which make the title of the Godfather vested upon him seem like a sacrilege.
However, I am not saying that Michael ought to have been precisely what his father was. Instead, he should have grown from all the experiences and knowledge he received under his father’s tutelage and mellowed into a respectable man like his father, thus completing the circle of life.
5. Oscillations in time are pointles
At times, watching Godfather 2 is almost like watching two separate films that have are faintly interrelated – one about Vito Corleone’s past and the other about Michael Corleone’s present. If seen individually, both of them are well-made, but they don’t go well together, mainly because of a lacking correlation between them. This makes the ferrying back and forth in time a futile effort.
The past, starring De Niro in the lead, is really impressive and with hints of the old power, plays a grace-saving role. All the parts that didn’t fit into the first movie were stitched together into the second, and surprisingly that is the best part about the film. However, it doesn’t cover many details about the Godfather that essentially should have been included – like Vito adopting Tom Hagen, Peter Clemenza’s death (he was removed because the actor demanded too much money) and Vito rising to his true glory. These aspects are left entirely in the dark and give it the appearance of a dazzling grin with a few of its teeth missing.
6. It came AFTER The Godfather
This statement might seem unworthy of mentioning, but it is a valid argument. Comparisons between the two classics are inevitable and the sad thing is that the original whacks its successor out of the park. The power, emotions and story that was hauntingly narrated in The Godfather is impossible to replicate, and this comparison makes Godfather 2 seem like a letdown.
However, that doesn’t speak about how good the film is by itself. It is brilliantly directed and plays out in an intriguing manner, and I’ll give the film all due credit for that. The movie is not bad, and these are microscopic flaws opposed to its grandeur. The film is a classic by all standards, a true classic.
Many have also been naively claiming that this is the best sequel ever made. However, they spoke too soon. The Dark Knight wasn’t made then.
John Doe, photograph by Marc Lewis