There is a lot to do CitadelAmazon’s budding franchise series, with its reported price of over $200 million (making it the second most expensive TV venture of all time, after The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power), designs for several international spin-offs, and a second-season renewal ahead of its April 28 Prime Video premiere. The streamer and executive producers Joe and Anthony Russo have bet the house on their long-gestating spy saga, which was announced in 2018 and is set to be the cornerstone of the company’s long-term plans for the small screen. .
Now that the first results are in, it looks like they might want to cut their losses.
At least in the first three (surprisingly brief) episodes of its six-episode debut run, Citadel is the definition of generic, trading in stock market spy cliches dressed in superficial embellishments in a way not unlike the Russos The gray man. That so much money has been spent on so little originality is almost astonishing, and probably partly due to behind-the-scenes shake-ups, with first showrunner Josh Appelbaum and director Brian Kirk leaving the project and Hunters brain David Weil takes over. Still, there’s no excuse for the dearth of new ideas dispensed by this book affair, whose action-romance is of an unnerving and rote variety, and made bearable only by the subdued chemistry shared by its two leads.
In the Italian Alps aboard a high-speed train, sensual agent Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra) is on an undercover mission to thwart the sale of a biological weapon by a passenger. Before she can accomplish this task, she is joined by Mason Kane (Richard Madden), a dashing and arrogant colleague with whom she clearly shares a carnal history. Playfully charged banter ensues, as does violent combat. Mason and Nadia learn that they have fallen into a trap set by Manticore, a shadowy organization that is in the process of eliminating all of Nadia and Mason’s compatriots in Citadel, an independent spy organization that, as it is eventually revealed, is “the last line of defense for good in the world.
Nadia and Mason are aided by tech expert Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci), while Manticore is run by British Ambassador Dahlia Archer (Lesley Manville) and apparently funded by the world’s wealthiest crime families. It’s basically a Bond-ian MI6-vs-Spectre setup, though given its slim silliness it’s more easily reminiscent of the conflict between GI Joe and Cobra.
Amplifying the cartoonishness of the proceedings, the skirmish between Nadia and Mason ends with Mason waking up in a hospital with retrograde amnesia and only a (false) identity to fall back on. Eight years later, Mason is married to Abby (NOS4A2(Ashleigh Cummings) and the father of her daughter Hendrix (Caoilinn Springall), but he starts digging around in his head again once he starts having visions of Nadia.
For his efforts to uncover his origins through DNA testing, Mason is discovered by Bernard, who kidnaps his former associate (and his family) and lets him know of his past. Furthermore, he indicates it in an urgent mission for which he is needed: Manticore seeks the super top secret Citadel briefcase as it contains the whereabouts of all living Citadel agents as well as nuclear weapons in the world.
While Mason can barely believe he was once a 007-style do-gooder, he hasn’t lost his ass-kicking abilities (it’s like riding a bike, I guess). As a result, he soon defeats some villains – including one of Dahlia’s twin henchmen (played by Roland Møller) – and acquires the case, which also contains a serum that will restore his memories because, you see, the agents of the Citadel have their consciousness directly uploaded to the servers and then put into a liquid that can return them via a simple injection.
Even by pulpy standards, CitadelThe fiction of is quite ridiculous, and it is no less so after Mason reconnects with Nadia, whose memory remote has been erased by Bernard, and who also does not understand that she was once a spy. One injection later and she’s back to her old self, though Mason isn’t so lucky, creating a romantically tense mentor-mentee dynamic in which Mason can’t fully trust his former partner and lover.
Of course, nothing is as it seems in Weil’s series, as visualized by recurring upside-down and rotating shots that are meant to speak to the upside-down nature of the narrative (and are an extension of the brilliant aesthetic of the series). When it’s all so obviously a ruse, however, it’s hard to take anything very seriously, and that’s certainly the case here, including when it comes to peripheral characters who are meant to be unmasked as surprise heroes or villains.
Chopra and Madden make a great pair, and their scenes together, especially early on, give the material a shimmer of the sexiness and intrigue it strives for. Plus, they’re both adept at the slam-bang demands of their roles, with Chopra in particular convincingly portraying Nadia as a skilled agent who can give as well as she gets.
Unfortunately, they’re cut to the knees by a story that welds spy parts together without much logic. There is an abbreviated quality for Citadel, with pesky plot details skimmed over so the series can reach its next international setting and spin-off dilemma. His dialogue is no better; talking about passwords, packages and key blocks, and statements like “game over”, “we can use it to take out Manticore”, and “everything you know is a lie” just reinforces the simplicity of effort.
Between Abby mocking her husband’s amnesiac revelation by comparing him to Jason Bourne, and Bernard mocking Dahlia lookalike killers like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Citadel strains for hipness. Yet such gestures cannot hide the fact that his own story is an imitation of a copy of past adventures.
The teases for the second half of the season suggest some easy-to-spot extra bombshells and eroticized repartee, but not something that hasn’t been seen before, and with more panache. Consequently, the series isn’t so much incompetent as out of place – a rehash whose striking locations and ho-hum CGI fail to make up for a lack of creativity. Amazon and the Russos may be planning big things for Citadelbut they would do well to temper those expectations, if not shift their attention elsewhere.
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