Arguably the most complicated, most powerful and best of the Godfather trilogy.
The first film left off with Michael obtaining his Don status in the Corleone family. The second film shows how far Michael falls down the crime family rabbit hole and how unobtainable his status as mafia ruler truly are among other crime families.
The film picks up with Michael throwing a coming-of-age party for his son at Lake Tahoe, only to have it interrupted late in the evening with gunfire, which was supposed to be for him. Michael, hellbent on finding out who planned the assassination attempt, starts to suspect that his business partner, through very reliable channels, from Miami, Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg), set up the attempt for a variety of reasons. Motivated by revenge, Michael soon finds out there is more than just one man behind the attempt.
Working close to Roth, Michael finds himself in a business deal with him and other families that revolve around hotel ownership in Havana, Cuba, which is a big money maker with the right investment. Unsure of the business deal, and Cuba’s government stability, Michael unveils plans to his brother Fredo, who has accompanied him on the trip, to pull his potential investment interest and to take out Roth in the process before making his way out of Cuba before the deal is complete.
A wrench is thrown into his plans, though, when he uncovers that his brother Fredo (John Cazale) helped out Roth and indirectly the assassination attempt put on Michael’s life. If things couldn’t get worse, the elimination of Roth goes bad and Michael’s close friend Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo), someone that Michael wanted murdered because he suspected he was involved with Michael’s assassination attempt, survives his own assassination and prepares to go in front of senate committee in the United States to uncover the Corleone family.
The film wraps with the death of Roth, the blackmail of Pentangeli by the Corleone family to keep his mouth shut and the sad death of Fredo by the order of his brother Michael. In addition, Michael ends up disowning his wife after her admitted and purposeful abortion of their unborn son.
The last scene of the film has Michael sitting alone staring out a window, having no one left in his life to love or stand in his way.
For me, Godfather II stands as the best film in the trilogy. It is a complete transformation of a character that let’s power consume him. It’s a fascinating character study and a grim reminder that power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. Coppola seemed to know from the get go what he wanted from this film and he executed the transformation of Michael into a heartless Don that is consumed with his own greatness in the most perfect of manners. The first film only gave us a glimpse at Michael’s turn, but the second film really drives home the point of how consumed Pacino’s character is once he got into the game. Coppola writes, directs and captures this all perfectly.
Again, for me, it’s the best of the bunch.
As for its Blu-ray transfer, the second film has a better go around than the first. I’m not sure if the film stock changed or the original print of the second film was kept in better shape, but whatever the case might be the colors come through far better than the first film’s Blu-ray transfer. This is especially true for the color banding, which is almost non-existent, as well as the graininess, which is considerably less than the first film’s transfer. Is it perfect? No, but it’s good, just like the film.
On the special features side of things, much like the first film, you only get commentary from Coppola, which is just fine considering the price.