Guess I have a lot of backlog today.
For no particular reason, I ended up watching the three Godfather movies again this weekend. Nothing new to say about the first two, which long-time readers know are my choice as the best movies of all time. Watching III right on the heels of the first two, a lot of things are apparent. Most obviously, III isn't anywhere near the level of the first two. On the other hand, it doesn't stink, which is something. Kael said it best, as usual:
Lightning didn't strike three times; the movie is lumbering. Yet I was relieved -- I felt he could get by with it. It resembles the first two pictures, and there's always something happening. I don't think it's going to be a public humiliation, and it's too amorphous to damage our feelings about the first two.III plays like a pretty good movie in the godfather genre ... if it had a different title and different names for the characters, it would have a better reputation. But it doesn't have a different title, it doesn't use different character names. In fact, it relies on the audience's fond memories of the better predecessors.
Some of the plot turns are a bit unbelievable ... Vincent doesn't really demonstrate anything to Michael that suggests he'd make a useful future Don, and Connie's transformation into a hardcore member of the inner circle comes out of nowhere (although Talia Shire does well with what she's given). The main problem, though, is that the film as presented is unnecessary. There's a good story to be told about the post-Michael generation of Corleones, but Godfather III is nothing more than a 165-minute prelude to that story. The bulk of the film is about Michael Corleone ... and his story has already been told in the first two movies. When Godfather Part II ends, we know everything about Michael. Nothing in Part III adds to our understanding of his character, nor is there any reason for us to expect otherwise: the first two films are the greatest movies ever in part because their depiction of Michael Corleone is complete.
The Godfather Part II is the greatest sequel ever because it expanded on our understanding from the first film, by showing both the roots (the "flashback" segments) and results (Michael) of Vito's life. The Godfather Part III is merely a very long coda to Part II, a coda that didn't need to be told. It's nice to be able to revisit the milieu, but unnecessary.
Finally, there's Sofia. She's no actress, but it's nice to know at this point that she has talents of her own ... her career as a director is likely to be much more interesting than her father's over the next few decades. She doesn't ruin III because she's not in it enough, but neither is there a need for a revisionist "she's not so bad" take ... she IS pretty bad. More disturbing is the weird undercurrent everytime she says "Dad" in the movie ... it's fodder for every pop-psychologist who sees the Michael of Part III standing in for Coppola, and it's unfortunate.