The Gist: Two parallel storylines follow Vito and Micheal Corleone. Several flashbacks reveal Vito's difficult and uncertain childhood in Sicily, Italy, all the way to his rise as the Don in New York City. The bulk of the film deals with Michael taking the reins of the family business, maneuvering to expand the family's empire to casinos and more, and dealing with insurgents within his ranks and attacks from outsiders.
Marlon Brando, who won the Lead Actor Oscar for The Godfather, has a much smaller role in The Godfather Part II, while Robert De Niro brilliantly plays the younger Don Vito, for which he earned a Supporting Actor Oscar. I wonder if this is the only time that the same character, at different stages of life, earned the Oscar for two different actors.
Part II really belongs to Al Pacino though, who gives one of his best and most memorable performances. He was nominated for the second time for portraying the same character, but never won.
The movie itself did win Best Picture though, just like its predecessor, another record yet unmatched. Francis Ford Coppola also was awarded the Best Director Oscar for the sequel, not having won the first time around.
The Bottom Line: The Godfather Part II is another quintessential example of great filmmaking, on top of being one of the best sequels for a movie ever. While it certainly stands on its own strengths, it benefits from having watched the first chapter.