It's been 23 years since Oliver Stone delivered the first Wall Street and introduced the world to the bad guy most traders these days seem to have taken inspiration from, but it's been a worthy wait. At the Cannes premiere of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps one thing is certain: Gordon Gekko is back.
Released from prison 7 years prior to the beginning of our story, Gekko (Michael Douglas) is a changed man. Unable to get back into his old game and estranged from his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) he's totally broken, and it's not until long into the film, when his actions change the game, that he's once again familiar to us.
And, in fact, after the brief prologue which appears in the trailer, Gekko doesn't actually arrive on screen until the 30-40 minute mark, though he's teased at, like the shark in Jaws, every so often. Instead the story picks up with Shia LaBeouf's character, Jacob, a promising young trader dating Gekko's daughter whose job is destroyed when the investment bank he works for collapses, along with his boss and longtime mentor Lewis Zabel (Frank Langella).
It's through his relationship with Winnie that Jacob meets Gekko and, much like he did with Bud Fox in the original, he takes the young trader under his wing. Of course nothing's so simple with Gordon Gekko, and so the film begins to twist and turn, especially with the introduction of corrupt fat cat Bretton James (Josh Brolin).
It's clear Stone injects plenty of personal politics into the film, and it sets itself against real headlines in 2008. But nevertheless, the story is too compelling for that ever to become too jarring, and actually it's clear that setting the story in this world provides justification to deliver the sequel at all. The markets are a changed place, for better and for worse, and it's interesting watching these characters - some old, some new - interact with that world.
Stone's tone is probably a little off kilter with what most might expect – this isn't a case of more of the same – and there are a few knowing cameos (including Graydon Carter and Stone himself) that distract just a little. A one-scene appearance from Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) provides a nice continuity with the original, and it's fantastic to witness his first encounter with Gekko since that fateful scene in Central Park.
Douglas is in fine form and slips comfortably back into Gekko's skin, while his interactions with Shia LaBeouf's Jacob are just totally gripping. LaBeouf acquits himself well, too, in a performance a good deal less overstated than we've seen from him in the past.
But most impressive, given how much of the original relied solely on getting to know Fox and Gekko, is that the supporting characters are all fully-formed and integral to the story in one way or another. Brolin might be the foil for Gekko, who's more the hero this time than he was last, but there are plenty of shades of grey for both men, and Bretton James is far from a one-note villain.
Carey Mulligan continues to prove herself as one of Britain's greatest young actors. As Winnie Gekko, she nails the emotion of her character perfectly. And even though Susan Sarandon appears only two or three times as Jacob's mother, her subplot neither outstays its welcome nor is too underdeveloped.
Few could have expected much from Wall Street 2, particularly judging recent form from both Stone and Douglas and the introduction of a new cast of characters. The original is a tough film to live up to, but Money Never Sleeps does exactly that, striking an original direction and proving to be a masterful companion piece.
We didn't need to know what Gordon did next, but Wall Street 2 makes us glad we do.