Heart of Stone – Netflix’s latest absurdly budgeted, instantly forgettable action vehicle – asks too much of its audience. Are we really meant to believe that Gal Gadot, an actor best known for playing pop culture’s favourite immortal demigod Wonder Woman, could ever be a meek, entry level field agent who visibly panics at the sight of Swarovski crystal gowns and blackjack tables?
Her character here, conveniently named Rachel Stone, may or may not be engaged in subterfuge – I won’t spoil it, but it barely matters anyway. No one, on screen or off, is buying Gadot’s ruse. She doesn’t put on a pair of dorky glasses. She never stammers or hesitates. She can’t even scrub the Elysian sheen out of her hair. Gadot remains Gadot, and there’s no hope that she might transform into something new because Heart of Stone can’t imagine its existence without her star quality.
At the very same time, the blandly efficient, professionally courteous super spy she plays here also does little to capture what even made her a star in the first place. Gadot can, at her best, capture that uniquely Wonder Woman-esque combination of powerful, statuesque beauty and gentle self-assurance. You want to see her body slam a goon through a concrete wall and then stop to pat a puppy on its head.
The film’s production company, Skydance Media, has a track record here. They may be behind the more recent Mission: Impossible films, but they’re also responsible for an entire series of action franchise non-starters that snap up popular stars and then throw them into wildly unsuitable, deeply uncharismatic roles. Ana de Armas in Ghosted, Chris Pratt in The Tomorrow War, Michael B Jordan in Without Remorse – you could swap all these roles around like a manic, celebrity pass-the-parcel and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference.
Much like the last Mission: Impossible film, Heart of Stone focuses on a piece of AI supertech that can hack into any server and reveal any information. It’s called “the heart”, purely so that characters can utter silly, little lines like “You own the heart, you own the world” and “I should have just listened to the heart”. Gadot’s Stone becomes embroiled in a plot to steal “the heart” from a legendary organisation known only as The Charter, a troop of spies with no allegiances and, apparently, no oversight. They’re like Marvel’s Avengers crossed with the Illuminati. Also on the scene are: hacker Keya (Alia Bhatt), MI6 agent Parker (Jamie Dornan), handler Nomad (Sophie Okonedo), and a techie known only as the “Jack of Hearts” (Matthias Schweighöfer). Some are good. Some are bad. Some switch between the two.
But while Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One created a very clear divide between manual labour, specifically Tom Cruise’s manual labour, and automated, depersonalised technology, Heart of Stone is an ideological mess. AI is great until it’s not, and then it’s fine because Gal Gadot can just kick someone in the face. It’s conflicted without embracing that conflict, resulting in a film that’s really about nothing at all.
And, unlike Mission: Impossible, director Tom Harper struggles to find the joy in Heart of Stone. These characters are universally severe, minus the one “quirky” support guy (Paul Ready) who owns a cat and occasionally mentions the cat. Outings to Portugal, Senegal, and Iceland see local citizens treated as cannon fodder, with barely a glint of recognition. And, most frustrating of all, the entire film looks like it was lit by a bedside lamp. It’s no surprise, then, that Heart of Stone landed on Netflix’s lap. All it seems to really care about is enticing its audience in. Beyond that, their pleasure is not its concern.
Dir: Tom Harper. Starring: Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan, Alia Bhatt, Sophie Okonedo, Matthias Schweighöfer. 12, 123 minutes.
‘Heart of Stone’ is streaming on Netflix
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