The news came last week that both director Oliver Stone and star Michael
Douglas are on board for a sequel to the seminal 1988 drama Wall
Street. That film, set in the original era of junk bonds and
corporate raiders, is remembered most for Douglas's portrayal of icy
Wall Street titan Gordon Gekko, who argued that "greed is good, greed is
right, greed works."
The time may appear ripe for a revisiting of the story. Wall Street,
after all, is a trendy villain once again, and the film's subject matter
is therefore timely. But for several reasons, Im skeptical as to
whether the project is a good idea, whether it will succeed and whether
it has any chance of being a good movie at all.
For one thing, the rumored storyline just sounds horrible. One recent
script which may, in fairness, not be used for the final version has
Douglas's Gekko getting out of prison after 14 years, embarking on the
lecture circuit and seeking to reunite with his estranged daughter,
while also mentoring a young trader (to be played by Shia LaBeouf)
battling an evil Wall Street firm.
A reformed Gekko? More stock villains based on today's AIG bonus-takers?
Who in the world wants to see that?
Furthermore, people angry at Wall Street aren't going to turn out to see
a movie about Wall Street, even if the bankers are the bad guys. If the
past 10 years of terrorism/Iraq/political corruption thrillers have
taught us anything, it's that populist anger at real-life villains
doesn't translate into ticket sales. The movie-going public would prefer
to ignore films about bad stuff that they're already seeing in the news
every day, even if they flatter their political prejudices.
Then there's the cast. Douglas hasn't appeared in a film of consequence
in at least 10 years, and neither of his co-stars (Charlie Sheen and
Darryl Hannah) are expected to return. Sheen is busy starring on the
decade's most hackish and unfunny sitcom, while Hannah's performance in
the original Wall Street was so legendarily bad that she probably
wont be missed either. As for LaBeouf, the last time he appeared as
"the young guy" in a 20-years-later sequel (last year's misbegotten
Indiana Jones film) it didn't work out so well.
While Stone's last two films, 2004's World Trade Center and last
year's W, were both reasonably good, neither came close to
capturing the zeitgeist. W in particular, rather than be a JFK-like
cultural lightning rod like the director clearly intended, was seen by
almost no one and got zero Oscar consideration. But one problem with
Stone's work is that it's gotten less subtle and a lot more obvious
over the years, coming to a nadir with the debacle that was Natural
Born Killers in the mid-'90s.
In the original Wall Street, the left-leaning Stone clearly meant
to make Gekko a villain and the film itself "a radical critique of the
capitalist trading mentality" (in Roger Ebert's phrase at the time). As
a result, parts of its audience have spent two decades misunderstanding
the film, taking "Greed is Good" at face value and identifying with
Douglas's evil corporate raider. Some were even inspired by the film to
seek careers in finance.
Could Wall Street 2 have a similar effect? Based on what we know
about it so far, I'm guessing no.