Gal Gadot proves to be more than capable of impossible missions in this solid action thriller from director Tom Harper.
PLOT: An intelligence operative for a shadowy global peacekeeping agency races to stop a hacker from stealing its most valuable and dangerous weapon.
REVIEW: We have entered the strange period of the SAG-AFTRA strike, where big movies are being released with minimal marketing from the film stars. At any other time, Heart of Stone would get a substantial push on every platform you can imagine. Instead, there are a few interviews filmed several weeks in advance that try to promote the new film. With Wonder Woman herself in the lead, Heart of Stone is designed to be Netflix’s equivalent of Mission: Impossible, even boasting their shared producers in the trailers. While the film shares more in common with the James Bond franchise, some spectacular chase sequences echo the most recent entries in Tom Cruise’s hit franchise. Heart of Stone is an action-packed movie that would have played well on the big screen and is the perfect movie to wrap up the summer.
Like many techno-espionage movies, Heart of Stone requires a substantial investment into the film’s MacGuffin. In this case, it is a computer known as The Heart, the most advanced processor on Earth. Able to break into any device or system on the planet, The Heart also can predict the future with creepy accuracy. Think of Minority Report but with a USB drive instead of three people floating in a tank. The Heart is controlled by a decentralized spy network, The Charter, which protects the world without anyone knowing. The Charter is broken into four groups, each aligned with a suit of cards. The Nine of Hearts, also known as Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot), is the 007 of the agency. Embedded within a team at MI-6, Stone acts with intel from The Heart to save the world. It is a cool, high-concept idea for a movie, but it is a bit of a stretch when we are meant to believe that Gal Gadot is a mere tech who works in the van rather than a sultry and skilled field agent.
The film opens with an establishing mission that introduces us to Stone and her team, comprised of field agents Theresa Yang (Jing Lusi), Parker (Jamie Dornan), and Max Bailey (Paul Ready). As the three MI-6 agents work to apprehend their target, Stone uses the help of her guy in the chair, Jack of Hearts (Matthias Schweighofer), to aid them without their knowledge. The opening action sequence is pretty impressive and, if not for Dead Reckoning Part One, could have been the best stunt work of 2023. When the mission concludes, the team is left to deal with the aftermath and the knowledge that someone hacked them and threw a wrench in the mix. That person is Keya Dhawan (Alia Bhatt), who becomes the focus of not only the MI-6 team but The Charter as well. Instructed by her superior, Nomad (Sophie Okonedo), Stone and the team go after Keya. That is where all hell breaks loose, and the main story of Heart of Stone gets underway.
Heart of Stone has a lot of good things working in its favor. At the top of that list is Gal Gadot. Having proven herself adept at leading big-budget blockbusters, Gadot is perfectly cast as Stone. We get minimal backstory for how Stone joined The Charter, but hints of her existing friendship with Nomad is enough to get the ball rolling. The film also never makes Stone a superhero and frequently shows that as skilled as she is, she is not impervious to physical limitations. Many of the action sequences are over-the-top, but they never venture into the realm of The Fast Saga or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We also have good supporting players, including Matthias Schweighofer in an underused role and Alia Bhatt as a nuanced villain. Jamie Dornan affords himself well as the Bond-esque veteran agent who shares chemistry with Rachel Stone. A couple of solid cameos add to the world-building at the core of this story.
On the other side of things, Heart of Stone is a fairly derivative film. Anyone who has seen a spy-driven action movie over the last twenty or thirty years will see the twists coming a mile away. Scripted by comic book author Greg Rucka (The Old Guard) alongside Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures, Christopher Robin), Heart of Stone relies on tried and true tropes of the genre, which it does not try to reinvent. The best part of the script is that Rachel Stone is never treated as a female spy but rather as a spy who happens to be a woman. The sexual undertones of the story are kept to a minimum, but when they feature in the plot, they are riddled with cliches. Tom Harper, whose last film was the period drama The Aeronauts, handles the action pretty well, and the CGI is never glaring as it so often is in big-budget movies these days. The stuntwork is good but occasionally gets mired in chase scenes rather than other types of action. Harper fares well with the material, keeping things clean if not familiar. The editing and the very Bond-like score by Steven Price (Gravity) accentuate the formulaic elements of the film, further diminishing any chance of this film not feeling like a copycat of established franchises.
Heart of Stone is a decent introduction to a potential franchise thanks to a charismatic leading turn from Gal Gadot and some solid action sequences. While Tom Harper cannot help but remind the viewer of Mission: Impossible or James Bond, he brings enough energy and fun to this film to make it an easy and enjoyable watch. Heart of Stone would have looked fantastic on a big screen, but it works well playing on HD televisions, too. Like many Netflix films, Heart of Stone may be a bit overlong, but it still clocks in at a reasonable 113 minutes (the listed 123-minute runtime includes ten minutes of credits). I would be open to revisiting Rachel Stone and her compatriots in The Charter for a sequel that hopefully ups the ante on the action and originality of this serviceable introduction.