Among the more tragic things to witness in Hollywood is a filmmaker following up a branded classic with a sequel that just doesn't match up. Even worse is when that film doesn't even seem to be made by the same person. At least when Jack Nicholson made The Two Jakes, we couldn't get angry at Roman Polanski for it.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is the kind of movie that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. It's clearly a sequel to Wall Street, but it's so busy focusing on so many different things that the ultimate purpose of the project gets muddled. Is it a revenge tale? A cautionary tale? An expose about the continued evils of business or a torrid romance between a new liberal and a young republican? All of these things get touched on in Oliver Stone's follow up to the film that birthed the infamous creed "Greed is Good," but in trying to cover all those bases, it merely scratches the surface at any one thing.
I don't know what it is, but I just feel like Oliver Stone seemed more connected when he made the original; it had a purpose, a message to deliver about what was going on at the time, and it delivered that message with a swift slap across the face to the Wall Street wolves of the Reagan era. With the advent of our recent financial troubles, it would seem Wall Street 2 has an equally important message to deliver, but it just can't seem to figure out what that is... or it's got it all wrong.Essentially the premise of the film begins in 2001 (pre-9/11) when Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is released from prison for the crimes he committed in 1987. With no one to pick him up from the pen, Gekko decides to get to work being a celebrity author and seemingly repent for his sins. Fast forward to 2008, where we land with Shia LaBeouf's Jake Moore, a youngblood on the Wall Street fast track, who's seriously dating Winnie (Carey Mulligan) estranged daughter of the infamous Gekko. Now, Winnie is clearly pissed at her dad for ruining her life, so she's ultra-liberal and runs a blog and espouses her hatred for all things Wall Street... so why's she shacked up with Jake? Maybe there's a reason she's always miserable.
Jake is the protege of one Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), the head honcho at a Bear Stearns-type company. When the company is sent under, dispatching Zabel from not just the money game, Jake is left searching for a new father figure- one he finds in none other than, yup, you guessed it, Gordon Gekko. From there, it's wheeling and dealing for Jake to get revenge on the devilish Bretton James (Josh Brolin) and Gordon to get back in favor with his daughter, with the help of the young Moore, of course.
Performance-wise, it's a mixed bag, but not necessarily because of lack of talent. LaBeouf is great when he becomes bullish, signaling the rite of passage from the pimply-voiced protagonist in robot-deuling kid flicks to the brass balls of manhood. The catch? He's not always allowed to get there. The same goes with Carey Mulligan, who was rather luminous in the recent Never Let Me Go, but seems held back from really showing her stuff. Langella is wonderfully crusty, but gets the axe all too soon, and Josh Brolin does his best mustache-twirling as the clear-cut villain. And then there's Gekko, who, after being the most nefarious corporate raider of the 80's, spawning copycats who reveled in his big-chested speeches, completely ignoring the satire that was meant by them, is merely a shadow of the bad guy he used to be. But is he supposed to be a changed man or is he just the same old bastard he used to be? It's never really clear what he wants.
So this means we've got a deeper problem. Stone and scriptwriters Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff seem way too preoccupied with keeping Gekko on the sidelines, sending him away for large portions of the film, and dipping their toes into the idea that prison might have changed him for the better. It almost seems like this sequel is apologizing for its predecessor's creation of the greedy monster. It's always tricky when you try to make the villain into a hero, but it simply doesn't work here. Gordon Gekko is best enjoyed while in full asshole mode, and the film's quest to make us sympathize with him because he's trying (in trademark sharky ways) to reconnect with a daughter that hates him is an exercise in futility. Gordon just wasn't meant to be that guy. We don't want tarnished heroes, especially when they're money-laundering dicks. Those people are supposed to get raped in prison, not become bestselling authors with family problems.
Just like the new Gekko, the new Wall Street isn't quite the movie it used to be, or should still be. Marginalized by a scattered self-image and exacerbated by a wayward Stone, yet slick and entertaining enough to satisfy those looking for something vaguely reminiscent of the original, it pales in comparison to the original. Maybe it's time to drop the satire and go for the jugular: greed really isn't good.