From “Greed is good” to “Too big to fail,” Oliver Stone updates his iconic 1987 banking-industry screed, setting the opportunistic sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, at the dawn of the Great Recession of 2008. Imprisoned for eight years on insider-trading charges, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) emerges from the can a seemingly new man. He’s penned a sagely book, Is Greed Good?, that diagnoses the financial collapse and predicts its cataclysmic fallout. He soon takes under his wing a hotshot Wall Street protégé named Jacob (Shia LaBeouf, in the Charlie Sheen role) who happens to be courting Gordon’s left-wing blogger daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan, charming as always), who has all but disowned her father.

Jacob’s firm, the film’s fictional stand-in for Lehman Brothers, is the first domino in the economic disaster. To get a leg up on a rival company that orchestrated his bank’s plunge, Jacob arranges secret meetings with Gordon, gleaning the old lion’s expertise and connections in return for his estranged daughter’s company.

Stone’s focus is more romantic drama than thriller this time around, recognizing the potentially disastrous results when interpersonal relationships are conflated with business — when everything is a negotiation. The director’s signature lack of subtlety is not as intrusive as usual, but there are some cringe-worthy moments, as when a discussion of bursting financial bubbles segues into a blunt image of actual bubbles floating through the sky from a children’s park.

For the most part, this stylized exposé is well-written, well-cast, well-shot and compulsively watchable, offering an analysis of the banking collapse that effectively breaks down complex jargon into a layman’s understanding. Without question, this is a huge improvement on Stone’s recent fictional output, the reductive and melodramatic W. and World Trade Center.