Take a moment. Read that title again. What’s your reaction to it? How do you feel? Did the painfully forced pun give you a visceral reaction in the deepest regions of your soul? If you said yes, for your own personal health, avoid “Heart of Stone.”
“Heart of Stone” (2023) Is Heartless “Mission Impossible”
The movie is Netflix’s second stab using Gal Gadot’s superior acting chops in an action setting after the 2021 action-comedy “Red Notice” fell flat. This time, Gadot is asked to run point without a big-name Hollywood co-star (she does have one of the biggest Bollywood stars alongside her, but we’ll come back to that). We know she has the ability to do so. Unfortunately, “Heart of Stone” doesn’t allow her, or anyone for that matter, to truly shine.
If it hadn’t already been announced, “Heart of Stone” makes it pretty clear throughout about its intent on being the foundation of a new spy-thriller franchise. Gadot plays our hero Rachel Stone (get it?), code name “Nine of Hearts” (get it?!), an agent working for a shadowy secret operation known as The Charter.
The Charter generously refers to its ultimate mission as “peacekeeping.” What this really means is they act with impunity, above all international laws, a la “The Avengers,” taking out bad guys and threats to “peace.” The organization is run by four Kings (GET IT?!), each with a “suit” of agents below them (DO YOU GET IT?!). The true power behind this group is an all-knowing supercomputer/AI that can access any computer, camera, satellite, etc., called the Heart (HOLY CHRISTMAS, DO YOU GET IT?!!).
From here, you can probably piecemeal something close to the plot of the movie. Secret agent group has something cool; bad guys want it to do bad things, and Gal Gadot has to stop them. Spread that out over some admittedly pretty epic action set pieces in world-traversing locales. Toss in a double cross or two. Garnish with a few unexpected cameos, and bam! I’ve already got two missed calls from Apple+.
Characters Flat as Playing Cards
So what makes this different from other successful spy-thriller franchises, like its clear inspiration, “Mission Impossible”? First, the characters in the movie are as deep as a petri dish, with the dialogue to match. The most we learn about Stone comes in a walk-and-talk exposition dump where we learn… she was a bad kid. By default, sure, it makes some sense we probably won’t get a detailed backstory about an international spy trained to covert. But what about the rest of our characters?
Bollywood superstar Alia Bhatt makes her Hollywood debut as Keya, a young hacker who is essentially what moves the entire plot forward. She is given maybe four lines of dialogue to explain her motivations in the movie. The emotional pull she’s meant to give feels more like a gentle tap on the shoulder. The only other character we learn anything deeper than their name is Stone’s counterpart, Parker (Jamie Dornan). He at least gets a true flashback, yet his character falls similarly flat.
This is our first step into the “Heart of Stone” Universe (HSU, patent pending). I’m supposed to care about these people and be invested in seeing their future adventures. Sadly, the film does a terrible job of getting me engaged with any character in the movie, not for lack of trying on the actors’ parts.
The Ultimate McGuffin
Bad character writing and poor script aside, they aren’t the true heart of what doesn’t work with “Heart of Stone.”
As mentioned, the Heart is a supercomputer with the most powerful AI ever created. Using this technology, the Charter and its agents are able to identify threats sometimes before they even happen and calculate the best plan of attack. We also get several demonstrations of the Heart’s true reach, everything from taking down airplanes and crashing grids to disabling elevator break lines. At one point, it’s aptly described as “the most powerful skeleton key.”
This thing is live monitoring every bad guy in the world like one giant Ring camera. Yet, the seemingly first time the Charter is met with any active hostile attack, they are taken completely by surprise. They have the world’s most powerful weapon ever created, and they’re using it to play Batman – and they aren’t very good at it.
Ignoring the many gaping plot holes a god-like supercomputer introduces, the filmmakers have now put themselves in a Thanos situation: You’ve already defeated the most powerful bad guy in the world; where do you go from here? Marvel built up a lot of movies to give us the big Thanos climax. “Heart of Stone” shot their wad on the first go around. As a potentially budding franchise, how do you top that?
Do Better, Netflix
Streaming companies like Netflix are desperate to land the “next big thing,” the viral content they believe will keep viewers interested in paying $15 a month and make enough money to keep investors happy (but not quite enough to pay actors and writers).
And what comes across in “Heart of Stone” is desperation and a hollow piece of content attempting to manufacture connection. Instead, it buries viewers under layers of calculated one-liners and thin world-building. This sets up everyone involved to fail, leaving it another headstone in the vast graveyard of half-assed streaming content.
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