MOVIE REVIEW – As if the malevolent artificial intelligence at the center of another spy action movie, Mission: Impossible 7, wasn’t enough, Netflix now offers us a rather lackluster “sequel” starring Gal Gadot as a sort of female James Bond or Ethan Hunt
Tom Harper’s movie, originally and aptly titled “Heart of Stone,” is based on the acquisition of a character named “Stone” and a crucial piece of technology called “Heart.” As various characters in the movie vie for the powerful A.I. called “Heart,” the technology shuts down, prompting one character to suggest to another that perhaps the best solution would be to turn it off and then on again. Get it? It’s about as logical as this big, convoluted plot gets.
The A.I. has done it again…
As concerns about A.I., stemming from the activities of ChatGPT and then the protesting screenwriters, begin to consume a fractured Hollywood, it’s only natural that such concerns have seeped into our movies. Earlier this summer, even Tom Cruise threw down the gauntlet in Mission: Impossible 7, in which we follow super-spy Ethan Hunt as he tries to steal back a powerful artificial intelligence that threatens global security. Netflix hasn’t missed a beat, as “Heart of Stone” similarly follows a super-spy (played by Gal Gadot) as she attempts to reclaim an all-powerful A.I. that endangers the world. However, there is a stark difference between the films: While Christopher McQuarrie’s film can be interpreted as a fight against the evils of streaming and algorithmic programming, Harper’s feature does the opposite.
The movie opens in a glamorous hotel and casino in the Italian Alps, populated entirely by the worst people you’ve ever met, including a nefarious international arms dealer. How do we know he’s an arms dealer? Because MI6 specialist Bailey (played by Paul Ready) declares – ostensibly to inform his spy team via communication devices (read: Bluetooth earpieces that have been out of fashion for a decade) – that “our arms dealer is on the move!” when, in fact, said arms dealer is on the move. It’s the first of many moments in the movie that seem tailor-made for Netflix’s “second-screen” audience, those viewers who watch while tapping away on their smartphones, who are so passive that they might only notice what’s happening if they also hear it. It’s more than “disheartening”.
Super team on deck
As the action unfolds, we are introduced to the other members of this Mission Impossible-like team, including the badass Theresa Yang (played by Jing Lusi) and the more “lined” Parker (Jamie Dornan). Along with Bailey, the team is tightly knit and has recently taken on a somewhat new member. At first, we’re led to believe that Rachel Stone (Gadot) is a rookie MI6 agent, a tech kid not meant for field work. But in reality – hold on to your hats for this twist – Rachel is a seasoned super-agent, considered by many to be quite notorious and “scheming”, but the movie paints her as a “mere” agent for a super-spy group called the Charter. She’s been undercover with MI6 for almost a year in this weak disguise, and her MI6 team – supposedly top spies – haven’t figured it out yet. Considering that the four of them spend their briefing time chatting about global security issues in local bistros over fish and chips, they may not be as top-notch as first thought.
As the international arms dealer/Italian alpine nightmare party mission goes awry, viewers discover Rachel’s true role, and we’re introduced to the apparent main villain, hacker Keya (played by Alia Bhatt), who drops sly hints in the casino and the ensuing chaos. Soon, Rachel’s true identity is revealed, new villains emerge, and the role of the Heart becomes clear as it (what else?) threatens the existence of the entire world. And, of course, there’s a big, BIG twist in the movie.
Not quite the Royal Flush
Despite its super-spy flair, The Charta falls victim to some strange naming, as all four of its sections (why four? who knows) are named after a suit of cards – Rachel is a member of the Heart, her own title is Heart 9 – with their leader serving as the so-called “King” of the aforementioned group, though Rachel’s own King goes by the name of “Nomad” (at least he’s played by Sophie Okonedo). It seems like a very convoluted way to confuse everyone (including the poor audience) and limit how many people can work for The Charter at one time – another detail that probably sounded cool but makes no sense when you think about it.
They say the heart sees all, and The Charta uses it to a) predict the heinous acts they can help prevent, and b) formulate the best plan of action once they’re on the scene to thwart said heinous acts. If you haven’t already been reminded of another Tom Cruise franchise, Minority Report, Matthias Schweighöfer (he’s the “Jack of Hearts,” of course) will remind you of it as he wildly gestures at room-sized 3D graphics, moving databases here and there in a way that even Tom Cruise from said movie might envy. Seriously, if I were Steven Spielberg, I’d sue.
Of course, in this day and age, we’re no longer surprised when the camera jerks all over the place during action scenes, making it almost impossible to see what’s happening except for Gal Gadot’s determined stares into the camera. The second half of the movie gets better, but the first half is just a mess of shaky camera and quick cuts. These are only made bearable by the booming sound effects that tell us that whatever we’re seeing (or not seeing) is really intense and hardcore. However, a truly expertly choreographed car chase through the streets of Lisbon makes up for the over-edited action.
Wonder Woman in action, no real acting required
While the Wonder Woman star is undeniably a skilled action actress – and don’t worry, the stunning actress gets plenty of chances to show that side of her, even in the blurry scenes – she didn’t really have to stretch her acting muscles for this movie. Most of the time she looks sadly into the camera as she deals with the most outrageous betrayals, harrowing disasters and other tragedies. Considering how terribly clichéd the plot is, we couldn’t expect much more from her.
And after all the Heart-related drama, can we expect a sequel? The creators aren’t “heartless” (hahaha…): the movie, of course, sets up a sequel or two, another franchise, which the algorithm will “carefully” churn out for us: gladly!