On the Contrary: Greed Isn’t Good [WALL STREET 2 PREVIEW]
Greed isn’t good, and neither is making a sequel of a movie over a decade old.
An economic downturn leading to a recession and millions of Americans out of work—what a perfect time for the return of that great anti-hero of business Gordon Gekko! Well, actually, his timing could have been a little better, maybe back when WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS was originally slated to be released this past Spring, when the economy was on everyone’s mind and Michael Douglas was on the cover of VANITY FAIR. The sudden move of the film from March to September does not bode well for the studio’s confidence in its product. However, you shouldn’t need this to indicate something is amiss. The fact that it is a sequel to a 23-year-old film should tell you that.
Let me just establish some things. I have not yet seen the new WALL STREET. I will see the new WALL STREET. I am looking forward to seeing the new WALL STREET (as I was in March). That being said, I have no illusions that it can aspire to be anything more than a passable movie experience that will quickly be forgotten within a week of my trip to the theater. There could be a number of reasons for this (not the least of which is I always approach movies expecting to be disappointed—that way I’m often pleasantly surprised), but the main reason is a theory that I have developed and would like to put forward here.
Once a film is made and successful, there is a 10-year window during which a satisfying sequel can be made. Beyond that time, any sequel will always be inferior to its predecessor.
Think about it. What was the last long-awaited sequel that was worth the wait? Note here, for films in a series (ala STAR TREK or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) the clock starts after the last installment of the franchise. Also, remakes or re-imaginings by definition do not count as sequels. And the stretch is definitely 10 years. BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET are both equally wonderful indie dramas, but I would say that this is because writer/director Richard Linklater hurried and got the sequel in under the wire (9 years).
One of the best long-awaited sequels I can think of is THE GODFATHER PART III (a 16-year gap), and everyone seems to agree that while it is not a necessarily a bad film, it is vastly inferior to Parts I and II, and is often not included in discussions of the Godfather Saga (or if it is, it is mentioned dismissively as an afterthought). There are countless awful sequels that never needed to be made and certainly were not worth the wait. THE EVENING STAR (released 13 years after TERMS OF ENDEARMENT) and BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (released 18 years after THE BLUES BROTHERS) might be the absolute worst examples and are films that I not only wish I could un-see but films whose existence should be erased from historical records.
The more I test this rule, the more it seems to hold up. Material has a shelf life, and maybe after a certain period it simply is impossible to make a good sequel. It’s like a corked bottle of wine. There’s nothing to do but throw it out and grab another, unless you’re so desperate for the alcohol you’re willing to choke it down. This theory could explain “The Madness of King George” a.k.a. the films of George Lucas in the last 15 years. Both the STAR WARS prequels (Episode I was 16 years after JEDI) and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (released 19 years after LAST CRUSADE) were simply past their expiration date. If this is the case, there was nothing Lucas or Spielberg, could have done to save these films—they were doomed to disappoint.
This of course doesn’t bode well for Gordon Gekko’s return. Likewise for the upcoming TRON: LEGACY. And for nerds like me who have been seizing upon every rumor of a new GHOSTBUSTERS film, maybe it’s time to let it go.
But wait…. there is hope. One bright, shining, steroid-infused sequel savior. Sylvester Stallone. His sequels ROCKY BALBOA (26 years after ROCKY V) and RAMBO (20 years after RAMBO III) were satisfying and worthy entries to their respective series. You can debate the merits of these films all you want, but that is beside the point. They are of the same caliber as the others in their series, so they fit right in. If you like Rocky movies, you probably like ROCKY BALBOA. If the RAMBO series got your blood pumping, the latest edition was good for your heart. The point is that these films somehow preserved the qualities of their predecessors. This could be due to the fact that their chief creative force, Mr. Stallone, has preserved himself (with the help of chemicals and an unchanging world view) for over 30 years. Time may weather him a little, but Sly seems to basically be the same Sly from the 80s.
Of course Sly didn’t have anything to do with WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS. Oliver Stone directed both films in the series, but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough. This movie is almost certainly going to be a letdown. I’m still going, and I’ll be happy if I’m proven wrong. But if this movie were a stock, I wouldn’t invest in it.