This is definitely one of the greatest, if not the greatest sequel of all time. The only other movies that you can stick in with this category of films is Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan, and Lord of the Rings: Twin Towers. If anyone out there can think of a better set of sequels, then I would challenge them to find one to displace Godfather II as the best one.
Al Pacino and company are at their best here... but what makes this movie even better is the fact that Robert DeNiro has been added to the cast as the young Vito Corleone. I read an article a few years back stating that DeNiro and Pacino regret not having the opportunity to be in the same scenes together during their youth and only got that opportunity in the movie Heat.
Retrospectively, I believe if they had their chance to be in the same scenes in Godfather II as opposed to just promotional photos like this one, this movie would outweigh the importance of Godfather where Marlon Brando established his iconic status.
Godfather II seems to be on television every weekend of the year... always catch it during different times of the movie... yet however, there are two scenes that I could watch over and over again. Both are quite dramatic and both involve the character of Fredo (John Cazale). The underlying theme of Godfather II is to show the contrast between the young Vito vs. the Michael character, both as don's of their respective families at a young age. In Vito's case, although he is still a murderer in many instances, he runs his family with a sense of honour, trust, and love. Yet in Michael's case... although his intentions are just, he runs the family with a obsessive sense of control, mistrust, and greed. There are many times that show that Michael has become drunk with power and is slowly destroying his family and the relationships around him.
As a result, his entire family turns on him throughout the film... including his wife Kay and their children, his older brother Fredo, his older sister Connie, and of course the continuing conflicts with the other families such as that of the Hyman Roth clan.
Back to my favourite scenes. When Michael discovers that Fredo inadvertently betrayed Michael so that he would gain more power and respect in the syndicate operations during this pivotal scene during New Year's Eve in Havana, Michael gives his brother Fredo what is now known as the "kiss of death." The intensity of the kiss is what makes this scene great... Michael claims that Fredo broke his heart and does not let him go during this powerful embrace. Fredo tries to get away... but Michael doesn't let him go until he tells him how he truly feels... very powerful!!!
In a related scene, Michael orders his bodyguard Al Nili to execute his brother once their mother died. During her subsequent funeral, a similar embrace is made in the presence of Nili... who has the grave look of death on his face as the audience knows that he is the only one who is aware that Fredo will be dying very soon.
Overall, there are many powerful scenes in this movie that make this a great movie. It is definitely one of my favourites and quite possibly is a better movie than the first one. I know from my wife's reference from reading the novel, this movie is more in tune with how the novel plays out, as it tells about Vito's early life. However, I like how Francis Ford Coppola decided to spin this story within the trilogy, which ranks the Godfather trilogy as one of the most powerful storylines in film history... in my opinion, only second to the older Star Wars trilogy and above the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.