Sacred cows don't come beefier than Francis Ford Coppola’s first two Godfather films.
Bête noirs don’t get much more reviled than cash-in sequels that just rehash their predecessors.
Never the twain shall meet, right?
Wrong. In 1972, Coppola surprised the world by emerging from a troubled production with an out-and-out classic.
Even better, The Godfather put bums on seats, and then some.
He got his obligatory movie-brat Antonioni knock-off out of his system with The Conversation and then, received wisdom has it, redefined sequels with his second swing at Corleone family values in 1974.
Thing is, though, he didn’t.
The Godfather Part II , for all its world-class photography, design and acting, epitomises all that is ropey about the very idea of sequels.
They are, in essence, the products of cautious studios trading on an established brand, not an artist with the burning need to retell a story with budget.
Just as much as any straight-to-video parte deux, II just doesn’t need to exist.
For all Pacino’s staring or De Niro’s grimacing or Coppola’s attention to period detail, there is nothing – literally nothing – in the sequel that the most dunderheaded viewer couldn’t surmise from the first film.
But what about the tragedy of Michael Corleone, you say? Coppola’s operatic examination of a good man strangling his own soul?
Yes, Pacino is terrific – but what is there in his three-hour journey to a lonely autumn deckchair that we don’t lot more economically in The Godfather ?
It takes a special kind of indulgence to just forget Michael’s murder of his brother-in-law and deceit of his wife and sister in the first film, and then to feel anything other than deja vu as he goes on to murder his brother and – guess what – deceive his wife and sister.
He really doesn’t have far left to fall, but he still manages to do it in quadruple the screentime second time round.
Then there’s the extended flashback scenes that, again, showcase sterling see done a whole work from all concerned, but take eons to trundle through what the first film wisely left implicit.
How much more elegant to leave us to fill in the gaps and top off our speculation about Vito’s immigrant background with the brilliantly written scene where he outlines his hopes for his young son, than to spell out his bloody rise beat by ponderous beat.
De Niro is forced to play the Mafia Anakin Skywalker, trudging toward a foregone conclusion – ironically, Coppola’s pal George Lucas advised him to trim the whole sequence.
Movies with love handles around their running times and numbers in the title are par for the course now – and it’s important to remember the one that supposedly transcends the neverending turd shower of sequels actually set the template all too well.
Bloated by a blank cheque from an auteur-blinded studio, Coppola’s
sequel is the highbrow equivalent of the endless
Friday The 13th
franchise – lazy, cynical and utterly pointless. Or is
it just me?
VOICES OF REASON
What’s so redundant about charting Michael’s Godfatherly career – which is only getting started at the end of Part I – and revealing how much dad did things differently? The parallels are pointed, illuminating and fascinating. How was Coppola ‘cashing in’ when he made a longer, slower, gloomier movie that drains away the original’s residual glamour? Boldly argued, Andrew, but... no.
I’m just not interested if there isn’t a severed equine noggin-in-a-bed scene.