There are a bunch of interesting ideas at play in the Gal Gadot star vehicle “Heart of Stone” although, unlike the main superspy, none ever really take flight.
The latest Netflix attempt at a blockbuster action franchise, the thriller (★★½ out of four; rated PG-13; streaming Friday) features the “Wonder Woman” actress as an ace operative for a secret global peacekeeping operation that uses an innovative artificial intelligence to pull off missions and predict terrorist attacks. (Yes, AI was also a huge plot point in Tom Cruise’s recent “Mission: Impossible” movie.) Various spycraft tropes litter director Tom Harper’s globetrotting narrative, though Gadot’s charm offensive and her character’s righteous fervor help counter the film’s wilder plot swings.
Rachel Stone (Gadot) is an MI6 tech expert who’s not supposed to leave the van, and her leader Parker (Jamie Dornan) and the rest of their team are wary when she has to go into the field during a mission in the Italian Alps. The mousy demeanor is a front, though: Rachel is actually a highly skilled agent who can fight, shoot, drive and skydive like a champ.
‘It was really juicy’:Gal Gadot enjoys ‘messy’ superspy life and being an Evil Queen
Working undercover for The Charter as “Nine of Hearts” – there’s a whole playing-card hierarchy for this shadowy spy network – she helps solve missions when her teammates aren’t looking and, through the Jack of Hearts (Matthias Schweighöfer), she gets real-time AI updates about escape routes, number of bad guys and other important info.
Speaking of hearts, Rachel has a big one, and to her Charter boss’ dismay, she grows close to her MI6 crew. But Rachel’s cover is in jeopardy when she discovers prodigious Indian hacker Keya (Alia Bhatt) is attempting to steal The Charter’s powerful AI – and more importantly, she’s got help on the inside. In a twisty adventure that sprawls from Lisbon to Iceland to the skies over Senegal, Rachel gets in all manner of scuffles trying to keep this tech from getting into the wrong hands.
It’s an ambitious franchise starter that, like so many of its action-movie ilk, tries to roll out too much in two hours and change. The initial premise of a secret agent having to “tone down” her skills so her team doesn’t notice is a cool idea. So is a hush-hush intelligence operation that takes care of global problems on the down low (and features a nifty cameo from a notable Oscar nominee).
But tossing those into an earnest action-flick stew with an all-powerful AI, rival hackers and endless nondescript goons for Gadot to kick in the face just doesn’t help tell a focused story. If this was, say, the seventh movie in the franchise, it’d be one thing. But the plot overload stymies world-building and character development: While Rachel seems nice and all, we don’t really get a sense of her backstory until later in the film, and then it’s only in cryptic dribs and drabs.
New movies to see this weekend:Skip ‘Last Voyage of the Demeter,’ stream ‘Heart of Stone’
Unfortunately, that’s par for the course with the buckshot approach of these A-list Netflix action movies – it might hit, likely won’t. “Red Notice” bungled the no-brainer pairing of Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds. (Gadot also was a part of that forgettable outing.) Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling’s “The Gray Man” was great on paper, middling in execution, while Chris Hemsworth at least muscled together a couple of above-average “Extraction” films.
“Heart of Stone” is better than the usual two-fisted streaming affair, mainly because of Gadot. She carries over Wonder Woman’s infectious goodness to this new superspy – who has John McClane’s hard-luck determination crossed with James Bond’s coolness under fire – and as a producer, Gadot refreshingly tries to create something original. There are no Rachel Stone novels, comic books, movies, TV shows, toys, or breakfast cereals to pull from in crafting her character and high-tech world.
This heroine has plenty of “Heart,” her movie just needs more soul. And a sniper’s focus wouldn’t hurt.