Appearing in cinemas a mere two months after Black Monday precipitated the decade’s financial crash, it boasted an era-defining performance from Michael Douglas as monstrous corporate raider Gordon Gekko and simply bristled with spiky one-liners such as “Greed is good” and “lunch is for wimps”.
But Stone has missed the moment with his belated sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Instead of being ahead of the game, he’s now lagging behind. Looking back for inspiration to the banking meltdown of 2008, he’s made a movie that already seems out of date.
He’s stayed faithful to the iconic Gekkko, of course. But in the interim has Wall Street’s financial shark become extinct? Has he, dare one say, turned into a dinosaur?
Well, in the new film we first encounter Douglas’s disgraced financier as he emerges from prison in 2001, having served eight years for insider trading. As Gekko collects the belongings he deposited when he went inside, Stone and his screenwriters (Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff) deliver a funny, if obvious, visual gag to emphasise how the times have changed: there’s a money clip, a signet ring, a watch … and then a mobile phone that’s bigger than a brick.
Is there a place for Gekko in the 21st Century? Is he a reformed character? And, if chastened, is he now also toothless?
Seven years pass, during which Gekko reinvents himself as an author and doom-saying sage, ripping into the even more rapacious financial whizzes who have succeeded him. “While I was away,” he says, “it seems greed got greedier.”
The one-liners don’t have quite the same zing but Douglas’s Gekko is still good value. Unfortunately, in plot terms, he is playing second fiddle to Shia LaBeouf’s ambitious young trader Jake Moore, who works for leading Wall Street firm Keller Zabel and wants to marry Gekko’s estranged daughter, lefty blogger Winnie (Carey Mulligan).
When Jake’s firm, and his mentor (played by Frank Langella), fall victim to the sub-prime crisis, he seeks revenge against the man he holds responsible – slick hedge fund manager Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Should he do a deal with his would-be father-in-law to achieve his ends? Let’s say a trade of inside information on his enemy in return for help reconciling Gekko with his daughter.
It’s a shame that Stone has chosen this family-melodrama-cum-revenge-thriller storyline for his Wall Street sequel. Although his film gives us some flashy sequences depicting 2008’s spiralling financial panic, he’s missed an opportunity to skewer the real-life villains responsible for our current economic woes. (The scene in which New York bankers, resembling Mafiosi, meet in a shadowy boardroom to decide who are to be the failed system’s fall guys isn’t really enough.)
What really lets down Money Never Sleeps, though, is the thoroughly wet and drippy Shia LaBeouf. About as far removed from an alpha male as you can imagine, he’s just laughable as a financial hotshot. Even allowing for the fact that he’s supposed to be a trader with a conscience, eager to raise funds for a green energy company, he just doesn’t cut it as a Wall Street wannabe.
Published the same year as Stone’s original film, Tom Wolfe’s equally timely book The Bonfire of the Vanities was similarly on the money when it came to capturing 1980s New York. Wolfe coined the phrase Masters of the Universe to describe men of Gekko’s ilk, but LaBeouf has none of their swagger. In fact, he’s closer in stature to their namesakes – those small and shiny plastic toys.
On general release from 6th October.