The acting is phenomenal. The story and its characters are quite intriguing. And much of it is better than its predecessor. Yet the most desired theme to exploit, that of the “family business” of payback, is held in check by an examination of atonement, forgiveness, and change. Bringing down the opposition is the quickest way to a cathartic conclusion, which is preferable and more believable than any alternative forced upon us by the necessity for positive closure. In this not-so-fictitious world controlled by greed and power, the lessons learned should have a drastic and lasting effect, while forgiveness and trust are nearly unobtainable achievements. The characters of Wall Street really only seem at home when they’re busy concocting ruthless revenge schemes and conspiring to crush the competition. Perhaps speculation is the bane of existence, but one does have to wonder how much more powerful the film could have been had revenge and “moral hazard” not allowed redemption to intrude. Young Wall Street trader Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) works for major investment firm KZI under his beloved mentor Lewis Zabel (Frank Langella). When the company rapidly begins to collapse and Zabel is forced to sell or face bankruptcy, he takes his own life. Devastated by the loss of his teacher, Jacob becomes determined to exact revenge on Bretton James (Josh Brolin), the man responsible for his company’s destruction, and seeks out infamous former corporate giant Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) for help. Using his fiancée Winnie (Carey Mulligan), Gekko’s estranged daughter, as a bartering chip to enlist the conniving investor’s aide, Jacob begins to wage a war of wits, egos, and millions of dollars against an adversary with nearly limitless resources.
Once again we must toil over the money lingo and investment terminology the average person has no knowledge of. This time, director Oliver Stone also adds scientific jargon, accompanied by annoying computer animation visualization and split screen editing. The loads of money are so immense and the banking so high-stakes, few people could make heads or tails of it – but most will understand the basic concept of greed and the way humans turn to cutthroats for a chance at the prosperous big leagues. For characters like Gekko, the capital itself is no longer the thrill; the fun comes from the game, the competition and rivalry, and the endeavor to make more and more. These are the kinds of people who have more money than they could spend in a lifetime, and the people who once had it all and are now desperate to rejoin in the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is better than the original in many ways, from the structuring to the directing, but most noticeably in the acting. Douglas again has the most interesting role, burying emotions in order to advance against opponents that are equally as heartless. Revenge drives many of the personas, but so too does redemption; this sequel features much more character development, establishing human drama just as much as monetary wheeling and dealing. Computers have evolved, fashion has changed, and technology has advanced, but Wall Street is still very much the same – the charts, the locations, the obsessive phone calls and the crazed, energetic investment firm floors are present, showing that everyone is still scrambling to become the next Gordon Gekko. The film’s greatest weakness is the conclusion, which feels heavily burdened by studio pressures demanding a sense of psychological certainty – if it were entirely up to Stone, he certainly would have gone with a much less palatable finish.
– The Massie Twins