Greed is still good, yes, but it could be better
Oliver Stone’s Wall Street was a stylish portrayal of eighties vulgarity. In many ways, it was a foreboding dissection of corporate greed yet to come. But let’s be honest, it worked brilliantly as yuppie porn too (and what better substitute for Kleenex than dollar dollar bills, y’all?)
The Oscar winning 1987 film may have climaxed with Gordon Gekko – Michael Douglas as Mr Greed Is Good himself – getting his Rolodex’s hauled off to prison. But Gekko’s suits were too sharp, his hair too good and his life too exciting for anyone to have ever really viewed the film as a cautionary tale. To illustrate, here’s a random fact I made up ten seconds ago: every single person who has ever entered The Apprentice has also watched Wall Street and thought to themselves, “I want that…”
I’ve always felt that Wall Street’s eighties setting made such japes seem playful rather than immoral – it was the eighties, people fucking people over was just what people did. Yet set in New York, 23 years on from the first movie, the belated sequel Money Never Sleeps gatecrashes a real life financial climate more serious than that of 1987 – with a plot if not directly concerned with, then certainly played out against the backdrop of the 2008 banking crash that means that fabulously talented people like me currently need to eat out of bins just to survive.
Once again there’s a suicide. This time it’s of investment banker Jake Moore’s (Shia LaBeouf) mentor figure rather than Gekko’s son, and there are moments when you really do feel like these people are in the cockpit of a world going to shit. But beyond these brief stabs of darkness, this is a friendlier, infinitely more family focused film that the corporate raiders debut outing. Much of the film hangs around Gekko’s attempt at reconciliation with his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). It even ends with Gekko celebrating his baby grandson’s first birthday.
In terms of ruining the fundamental appeal of one of Hollywood’s great villains, all of this is a little bit like asking Heath Ledger’s Joker to replace jutting pencils into peoples skulls with changing babies’ nappies. But even beyond that, it’s a shame that returning director Stone chooses not to make the comment about modern climes that I, upon seeing the sequel trailed in cinemas six months ago, thought was most likely the principal reason for getting it made.
I’ll concede that there are enjoyable moments contained amongst all of this. There’s a brilliant explicative laden cameo from Charlie Sheen returning as Gekko’s old protégé Bud Fox, whilst Josh Brolin makes up for the career wobble that was Jonah Hex with a great turn as unrepentant greed merchant Bretton James. But beyond this and for reasons outlined prior, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps seems like a rare act of cowardice from Stone, the old firebrand moralist of JFK and Natural Born Killers. It certainly feels like a wasted opportunity, the sort of which the old Gordon Gekko would never have missed.
More than anything, Wall Street 2’s ultimate failure is it’s more likely to make the viewer crave a ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ mug than a sports car and Daryl Hannah. A disappointment, frankly.