Heart of Stone is pre-molded for the Netflix formula of star-driven action vehicles and spy thrillers that are meant to pass the time and do little else to stimulate your thinking or entertainment. These expensive and generally disappointing genre movies feel remote and mechanical, as if the almighty Netflix algorithm thought, after housing and documenting thousands of action movies, that it too could make a competent spy thriller.

Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot) belongs to MI-6 but also another organization, The Charter. They’re a clandestine peace keeping force powered by a super A.I. known as The Heart. Super hacker Keya (Alia Bhatt, RRR) is after the Heart, and she’ll wreck havoc until she gets it.

There are plenty of recognizable genre elements and inspirations here, but the problem with Heart of Stone is that it never gets beyond feeling like another bland summation of its formula-laden parts. You’ve seen bits and pieces of this movie before, so the viewing experience becomes a personal guessing game of how long it will take for Heart of Stone to utilize this genre cliche or that cliche. There’s no surprise or verve or quirk to be had here. Everything is pulled from a big bucket of cliches and then reassembled to best simulate a genre movie that you mostly remember seeing before. This lack of effort and finesse can make the movie quite a slog to sit through. The lack of imagination translates even to its generic title. See, her last name is Stone, and she works for a secret organization where people have code names after playing cards. Do you get it? This clunky name generator title feels like something that some feeble social media post would ask as it really intends to steal your identity from security questions.

I keep going back to the very core construction of the plot and scratching my head in confusion. Stone is part of MI-6, a spy agency, but she’s also part of ANOTHER even more secret spy agency, which she must keep secret from her fellow secret keepers already doing their spy thing. Why do we need the extra layer of subterfuge? What does this add? The situation where the very deadly and skilled person is hiding in plain sight, the Superman pretending to be the bumbling Clark Kent, is already there with her being a hidden spy, so why do we need a second layer? It’s a complication that doesn’t add anything of value. She’s already on a mission and getting tech help from her own spy team and agency, and she’s also given even more secret tech help from the other more secret spy agency. It’s redundant. It’s not like TV’s Alias or Hydra in the Marvel movies where there was an opposition force within the spy agency, actively working against its aims. It also has the detriment of prolonging the eventual revelation and inevitable betrayal from within the team (don’t act like you didn’t see this coming from the opening mission). We all know it’s coming, so then I think that perhaps the filmmakers will use this extra time with these co-workers to better develop them, give them intriguing dimensions, or at least complicate the relationships with our protagonist who is actively lying to them about who she is. Nope. She does take care of one guy’s cat.

Another element that made little sense to me was the chosen villain. Spy and action movies lend themselves to larger-than-life characters that aim at world destruction and big swings. This movie introduces us to a super hacker who excelled in her field. Okay, and? The character feels more like a hostage than the antagonist that is masterminding the world-trotting schemes. There’s nothing of interest to this Keya character; she’s practically amorphous, so poorly defined that any other character can project onto her. I kept waiting for the motivation for why she’s resorted to her schemes, what she would want to do with the secret supercomputer, something to better add dimension or at least context for this character. Her motivation is just as frustratingly vague as the rest of her, as it’s revealed quite late that she wants the supercomputer to right the wrongs of the world, though what exactly those are, and whether she has a personal connection, who knows? She’s so bland as a villain that (mild spoilers) when she’s eventually deposed by another villain, I felt a little surge of relief that maybe someone else could do better villainy.

Even familiar genre movies can be saved with well constructed and exciting action, like those Chris Hemsworth Extraction movies that coast off the fumes of the most tortured military action cliches. Alas, there is no relief for Heart of Stone. The action is supremely bland and lacking better connections to the characters and their plights. It’s usually just chases and shootouts. There’s one sequence that takes place inside a floating satellite station, and I thought that for once things might get interesting. The subsequent action is just another fist fight and beating the other person to grab a thing before everything explodes from a gas leak. This could have just as easily taken place in a warehouse or a boat or a house or a basement or anywhere. Why introduce a fantastical setting and then ignore utilizing those unique aspects? I guess it does lead to a debris chase that reminded me of Black Widow’s finale. There is a mid-movie chase through the streets of Lisbon that has some life to it as we watch cars careen at high speeds, but it’s also nothing we haven’t seen before and better in a dozen other movies with more conviction than this one.

Gadot has rocketed to fame from her Wonder Woman status and she can be a charming screen presence, but let’s acknowledge there are definite acting limitations as well. I challenge you, dear reader, to think of a beloved Gadot performance outside of her Amazonian warrior woman. Were you floored from Triple 9? Or Keeping Up with the Joneses? Or Death on the Nile? There’s a reason the producers decided to just make everyone on Wonder Woman’s ancient island mirror Gadot’s Israeli accent. With that said, Gadot seems so thoroughly bored here. It might be the groan-inducing dialogue that confuses what constitutes banter and quips; take for instance a moment when a member of the spy team remarks about her haphazard driving, “Are you trying to kill us?” and Gadot woodenly replies, “Actually quite the opposite.” The movie is filled with these lackluster quotes and genre buzzwords but without any real meaning behind the words. It’s a movie going through the motions, and Gadot is following suit. It’s not that she’s bad here. She’s never asked to really try.

The conclusion of this review is as good a place as any to talk about the implications of the story, something that Heart of Stone doesn’t seem slightly interested in. The “heroes” of the super secret spy agency have a supercomputer that makes scarily accurate predictions, enough so that the spy agency takes them on blind faith as operating orders. Nobody really asks whether this is a good thing, except for a scant reference by our antagonist before they decide to jump ship and join Team Follow the A.I. Nobody explores the more existential question of whether these things are accurate because the machine was right or because the people were just doing what the machine said, thus making these things become accurate because of the engineering direction. There’s a Minority Report aspect about free will and abdicating this to machines that is begging to be better explored. Unfortunately, this all-knowing supercomputer is just any other disposable spy thriller element jumbled together to best resemble another disposable product. I read that Netflix intended for this to be the start of a franchise, and without an intriguing world, lead character, spy agency, or set of ongoing conflicts, it’s hard for me to envision anything Heart of Stone could offer that people would request a return visit. If you need something loud and derivative to take a drowsy nap to, then Heart of Stone is the next The Grey Man.

Nate’s Grade: C-


This review originally ran on Nate’s own review site Nathanzoebl. Check it out for hundreds of excellent reviews!

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