This week in sequels to movies that people had forgotten about because they are over two decades old, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps comes to us. Did anyone really need a sequel to Wall Street? Do people even remember that movie. Money Never Sleeps is a 2010 release to a movie that, while good, wasn’t exactly a smash hit back in 1987. At least the filmmakers made the right choice in having the only main reprisal going to Michael Douglas’ character. Could you imagine a film following Sheen’s character twenty years after the climax of the first film?
Douglas once again plays Gordon Gekko, who was the villain of the first film. He wound up in prison, we learn, and served almost a full ten years. No, he didn’t murder anyone — and he claims that a killer only gets five years, anyway — he instead used illegal means to acquire money on the stock market. If you recall, money was the end goal of his entire life back in the ’80s. He’s been softened, and so has Oliver Stone’s movie. It’s no longer all about the money, or the social criticism.
The new lead character is the young Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf), who essentially does the same thing that Charlie Sheen’s Bud did in the first film. He works as a trader at an investment firm. He’s dating Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), a woman who doesn’t speak to her father, even now that he’s out of prison. Why, if she hates him and his type so much, would she date someone exactly like that? I have a feeling I know what Freud would suggest in this case, and that’s about the only thing I can guess, too.
A great deal of the film involves Gordon attempting to get closer to his estranged daughter. It doesn’t at all matter, so don’t even begin to worry that it will. Nothing matters in this subplot, and trimming it would have so desperately helped the film’s overlong running time that we might have wound up with a genuinely good movie. Instead, we get a mediocre one that spends far too long on something that’s about as interesting as watching the ticker go by when you have no stake in it.
The main plot, which is actually worth watching, involves Jacob attempting payback at a rich man named Bretton James, with the help of the senior Gekko. Bretton is blamed for causing the suicide of Jacob’s old mentor (Frank Langella), so Jacob wants to put him out of business, despite not having the skill set for such a job. With Gordon’s help, maybe, just maybe, it will be possible. You have to give Stone credit for at least trying something different with the story; a retread and updated version of Wall Street would have been an easy way to make some money.
There never seems to be much risk in Money Never Sleeps. These people are all rich even when they’re “broke,” and seeing people sit around in nice suits mumbling technical jargon isn’t that interesting. In the last film, we had an up-and-comer in Jacob’s spot, and he actually had things to lose. Jacob loses his job and even tells Winnie that he’s probably going to be broke, but that just never really happens. He then gets hired seemingly the next day.
Some of the sharpness is gone, too. These characters are all really smart, and they show that at times, but the dialogue is just kind of plain. You would think that these people would be able to have more interesting conversations, but it seems like they’ve been put through a filter, dumbing down everything that they say and think so nobody will feel left out. I didn’t always understand the complexities behind the stock market in the first film, but I understood the reasons, which was good enough.
This time around, while the jargon is still there occasionally, there’s little motivation behind it other than the simplest of reasons. And the character interactions, while sometimes interesting, fail to do much more than generate a mild curiosity. There’s no depth to them or their relationships to each other. While I didn’t care about anyone in Wall Street, either, at least there was enough there to think about. This time around, they’re all surface-level examples of what could, potentially, be fascinating.
Michael Douglas is still very fun to watch in the role he played 23 years earlier. His character is nicer, but still smart, sly, and charismatic. You like watching him. Nobody in the first film could match him, and nobody here can, either. Every time Gordon Gekko appears on-screen, you start to get interested. When he disappears for long stretches, all momentum is lost. Shia Labeouf and Carey Mulligan can’t carry the load, and Frank Lengella’s role is too short to ultimately matter, even if he’s great in a small part.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps isn’t a terrible film. Oliver Stone’s failures still look great and are competently made. But there’s none of the commentary that was prevalent last time around, which means it’s a shallow film. The plot is a bit more complex, but without any sort of subtext, and with a terribly dull subplot involving a man trying to get back into the life of his daughter, it can’t carry the film. Douglas is as fun as ever to watch, but the film around him isn’t worth your time.