It has been over 20 years since director Oliver Stone’s original hit “Wall Street” garnered actor Michael Douglas an Academy Award win and made the phrase “Greed is good” a pop culture staple. In late 2010, Oliver Stone reunited with Michael Douglas to give fans of the original film what they’ve been waiting to see for years… a sequel.
“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” begins as Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is finally released from prison for insider trading. During his time away from the outside world, Gordon’s daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), has severed all ties to her illustrious father and attempted to live her life free from his shadow. By her side is her fiancé, Jake (Shia LaBeouf), himself a Wall Street trader, who believes that perhaps the best thing for Winnie is to reconnect with her father. With so much time lost, Gordon sets his mind to bonding with his daughter, but also reclaiming the vast financial empire that was once his to rule, no matter the cost.
So, after nearly 25 years have gone by as ardent fans have waited for the continuing story of Gordon Gekko; was this particular sequel worth the wait or even necessary for that matter? If you ask me, I would have to say, “Not at all.”
“Why,” you ask? Well, there are several reasons that I felt this movie wasn’t worth the wait, and I shall get to those in a moment. As for the second part of the question, that I can answer right now.
Simply put, even if this film had been strong enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its predecessor, a task which could have been accomplished, it still would have been unnecessary.
Reason being, the story of Gordon Gekko was finished when he was sentenced to prison. The original movie gave the audience plenty of insight into his character, and personally, there didn’t seem to be anything further to explore. This was a sequel made for the sole purpose of cashing in on the still surprisingly strong popularity of this villainous Wall Street tycoon and the current financial crisis.
As for what made the movie not worth the wait; for starters, the story written by Allan Loeb (“21”) and Stephen Schiff (“True Crime”) is surprisingly uncomplicated, completely derivative, and utterly weak.
First off, an uncomplicated story isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In some cases there are movies that could have been incredible had the writer and/or director reined in the proceedings a bit more. However, when you compare the richness, the detail, and multiple layers inherent in the original “Wall Street”; well, a much simpler story seems almost insulting by comparison.
Then there is the primary driving force behind this film’s plot…revenge. While not a bad motivator for character’s within a story, it can result in some undue predictability seeping into the mix. Sadly, this proved to be the case here, because it seemed as if every single major player in the film (aside from Winnie) had some vengeance kick they were on for one reason or another. After a while, this overuse of one single theme began to make almost every aspect of this film, from the characters to the dialogue to the story itself, feel extremely uninspired.
Also, we have the complete lack of subtlety on behalf of director Oliver Stone. For a man as experienced in the art of filmmaking, one would have thought that he would have figured out how to be subtle. But, one would be wrong. This shortcoming is most prominently featured in his use of kids playing with bubbles to symbolize all of the “bubbles” (or trends) that occur in the stock market.
Symbolism can be a useful and extremely helpful dramatic tool when properly utilized. However, when the same symbolism is used repeatedly within the same movie it moves beyond being a creative visual aide to being annoyingly clichéd and above all, insulting to the viewer.
By the final use of bubbles in the movie, I really felt like Oliver Stone thought his audience would be too weak-minded to fully grasp what he was trying to convey within the story; hence, the need for such blatantly obvious visual aides. Well, I for one understood perfectly what the story was talking about (without the aides, I might add), and found the over-used symbolism to be unnecessary and ultimately patronizing.
Another area in which the story felt weak was in its inclusion of the 2008 market crash. Many people, myself included, figured Oliver Stone would have used this movie as an attempt to analyze/attack Wall Street and the banking industry after the collapse of 2008. After all, when has Oliver passed up an opportunity (aside from “World Trade Center”) to inject his own politics and theories into a film?
However, nothing of the sort ever really occurs. Surprisingly, Oliver Stone never really delves into the details surrounding the market crash. Basically, the whole fiasco was dealt with in a manner befitting a fairly minor plot point in the movie.
Even from my perspective as a guy who grows tired of Oliver’s political and conspiratorial soapboxes found in many of his films; I expected more from such a provocative director. In this regard, the movie felt lazy and uninterested in actually dealing with any of the serious issues surrounding its plot.
Despite the issues that plagued this film’s story, some members of this talented cast did their level best to elevate the movie beyond its meager standing. The two headliners for the film were the increasingly popular Shia LaBeouf (“Transformers”) and returning star Michael Douglas.
Actor Shia LaBeouf delivers a solid performance as Jake, a young up-and-comer on Wall Street and potential protégé of Gordon Gekko. Shia proves that he is more than capable of handling strictly dramatic material and that he doesn’t always need to be delivering witty zingers amidst giant talking robots.
Veteran actor Michael Douglas is perfectly conniving and underhanded, yet charismatic as ever in the role of Gordon Gekko. Despite the over twenty year sabbatical from this character, Michael brings Gordon back without missing a beat and delivers another great performance. It’s just too bad that this return appearance had to occur in such a misfire of a sequel.
Speaking of misfires what was the point of Charlie Sheen’s useless cameo? I understand that Oliver wanted to let fans see what Bud Fox was doing these days, but couldn’t his appearance have felt a little less shoe-horned in? Not to mention, the cameo did nothing to really serve the story other than provide a moment of awkwardness for Gordon. In fact, it just further cemented the pointless nature of this sequel.
Anyway, back to the regular cast for this film. Actress Carey Mulligan (“An Education”) was good in the role of Gordon’s estranged daughter, Winnie. My only complaint for her was that she wasn’t really given all that much to do other than throw a few mini fits every time she caught a glimpse of her father (understandable given their history) or cry about everything. She’s a talented actress for sure, but this role was wasted on her.
Lastly, in the remaining supporting roles are Josh Brolin (“No Country for Old Men”) and Frank Langella (“Superman Returns”). Josh had to have been pleased to work on this film, or any film for that matter with some semblance of a cohesive story, after the “Jonah Hex” debacle. Even so, his character here is nothing more than your standard shady political type, and Brolin never really commits enough to the role to improve upon it.
As for Frank Langella, his role as Jake’s mentor/father figure was essentially an over-glorified cameo appearance. Certainly his character holds significant influence over Jake for the entire movie, but Frank was not given all that much to do in front of the camera. Just like Carey Mulligan, Frank was just another bit of wasted casting in the film and further proof of the vast amount of potential that this movie squandered in the end.
In closing, after more than twenty years of fans waiting patiently had finally paid off, the end result was barely an average movie that is nowhere near as entertaining or engaging as its predecessor.
“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is rated PG-13 for language.