Leveraging Filmic Value: Wall Street (1984) vs. Wall Street 2 (2010)

Film sequels spell success for investors of Hollywood movies in the 2000's
One of the last lectures of my survey film studies class this term dealt with the predominance of the sequel, serial, and reboot in mainstream filmmaking of the 2000’s. Looking back at my notes, I discussed how many of the biggest, top grossing films of the 2000’s were based on remakes of previous works from comic books (X-Men, Spider Man), TV shows (Sex and the City), TV movies (High School Musical), Broadway plays (Chicago), and even theme park rides (The Pirates of the Caribbean). In 2002 alone, three of the four top-grossing films (domestic) were franchise sequels: The Lord of the Rings: The Two TowersStar Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

The original Wall Street captured the frenzied and dizzying world of
stock trading at the level of form and content. 
What then is lost in a sequel? In my opinion, a whole lot. Case in point is the recent sequel to Wall Street (1987), the original being a critically acclaimed film which tells the morality tale of a young stock broker who finds himself lured into the world of high stakes corporate raiding. Starring Michael Douglas (as the enigmatic Gordon Gekko) and Charlie Sheen (as the young and ambitious Bud Fox), the film won critical acclaim in its day for an unflinching examination of 1980’s excess and corporate greed. The themes of the film were also highly connected to the visual treatment of the story line. For example, in order to create the air of authenticity and intensity the film has become so famous for, director Oliver Stone spent a great deal of effort perfecting the camera work for the film, using the visual field to capture the sense of the “feeding frenzy” and fast pace of the financial world in contrast to the steady and stationary world of middle America. In one wonderful scene of confrontation between Gekko and Fox in New York’s Central Park, the camera work quite literally represents the sense of exchanged punches that leads to the final confrontation between men. In other parts of the film, the camera is completely stationary, as in the scenes with Bud Fox’s hardworking blue collar father (played by Martin Sheen), representing brilliantly the contrast between the illusionary and fleeting world of Wall Street and the more stable, if even nostalgic, scenes of working class America before the coming fall.  

Oliver Stone's camera work in the sequel lacks
the charge of the original Wall Street. Much of it reads
as superficial and decorative rather than conceptual. 
Fast forward to the sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), and all of the nuanced camera work in tandem with the carefully crafted plot gives way to pastiche. Stone’s elegant camera work is replaced by sensory overdrive and the fast and loose utilization of gimmicky and superficial panning shots of NYC. Gone is the critical scope. Gone is the believable plot. Gone is any sense of authentic character development. Bud Fox even makes a ridiculous and unnecessary appearance in one scene (the sequel's plot has nothing to do with him) that reads more as a cameo role for Charlie Sheen, signaling all of the recent scandal surrounding his real life moral dilemmas. There are also one too many product placement scenes of 2000’s excess—ironic for a film attempting to critically expose the mechanisms of consumer marketing and corporate greed that supposedly lead to the recent economic crisis. I could go on and on. Don’t even get me started on the not so subtle appearance of contemporary and expensive works of art in the film. I laughed out loud during one key scene where a corporate titan physically destroys a priceless Goya painting after being exposed for his corporate sins.  Yeah right… as if.

Reflecting on all this, it is quite staggering to think that an entire generation of film going audiences might grow up only ever experiencing the remake or adaptation of previous works as indication of movie success. What does this signal for filmmakers and more importantly, what does this signal for the possibility of taking risks and being creative in a film market demanding guaranteed financial returns? It seems that to make a successful (read: high grossing) film today, one has to falsely leverage the value of the original to sell the new crappier version to audiences. Sound familiar? This seems to be the shared modus operandi of Wall Street and Hollywood. Let us hope this crashes as well. 

A comparison of the original Wall Street (1987) trailer with its sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) pretty much speaks for itself.