DISCLAIMER: This review of Prime Video’s Citadel contains no spoilers. Proceed comfortably.
The Russo Brothers‘ next big-budget project is nigh. Last year’s The Gray Man was merely the tip of the spy thriller iceberg for the filmmaking duo, as they helm one of the most expensive TV shows of all time (although The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power beats it by about $8 million per episode). Prime Video’s Citadel is an innovative global event that boasts a flagship series and a handful of local language installments weaving together to tell an overarching story. Does this star-studded espionage thriller hit its target successfully? Read on to find out.
The main series stars Richard Madden as Mason Kane, Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Nadia Sinh, Stanley Tucci as Bernard Orlick, Lesley Manville as Dahlia Archer, Osy Ikhile as Carter Spence, Ashleigh Cummings as Abby Conroy, Roland Møller as Anders Silje and Davik Silje and Caoilinn Springall as Hendrix Conroy.
Here’s a synopsis per Amazon Studios:
“Eight years ago, Citadel fell. The independent global spy agency—tasked to uphold the safety and security of all people—was destroyed by operatives of Manticore, a powerful syndicate manipulating the world from the shadows. With Citadel’s fall, elite agents Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) had their memories wiped as they narrowly escaped with their lives.
They’ve remained hidden ever since, building new lives under new identities, unaware of their pasts. Until one night, when Mason is tracked down by his former Citadel colleague, Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci), who desperately needs his help to prevent Manticore from establishing a new world order. Mason seeks out his former partner, Nadia, and the two spies embark on a mission that takes them around the world in an effort to stop Manticore, all while contending with a relationship built on secrets, lies, and a dangerous-yet-undying love.”
I was only given access to the first three episodes of the six-episode season. One thing that surprised me was the relatively truncated runtime for each outing. In the age of hour-long streaming episodes, anything shorter than that is jarring, especially if it’s a drama. The shorter runtime doesn’t work in Citadel‘s favor. While Madden and Jonas deliver solid performances, it’s incredibly difficult to connect with these characters. We don’t know why we should care about them, and Mason and Nadia’s connection doesn’t land. Their chemistry is lacking.
The dialogue, notably in Mason and Nadia’s “flirtatious” scenes, feels rather film noir-esque, with rapid-fire back-and-forth that rings more forced than natural. The Russos can’t seem to shake the Marvel humor that’s embedded in the show’s DNA. It feels out of place in a spy thriller. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be any humor, but the MCU’s particular brand is akin to forcing a square to fit into a circle.
As for the narrative, it moves along at a brisk pace. Usually, this isn’t a downside, but, as mentioned above, the shortened runtime doesn’t serve what should be an intricately layered story, with characters who feel more one-dimensional despite Mason and Nadia’s multiple “identities.” That said, the action is serviceable enough (although, if you want detailed, ultraviolent action, better options await you). A few sequences garnered a squirm or two from me for their somewhat graphic nature.
One of the best aspects of Citadel is its stellar score, crafted beautifully by composer Alex Belcher. It gives off those “spy vibes” the series tries to emulate. The theme song gets you in the mood for thrills that, ultimately, aren’t delivered. On the cinematography front, the camerawork relies on slow, spinning shots. For example, a scene starts with the subject upside down before slowly rotating right side up. It becomes monotonous after a while.
Of course, I can only critique the series based on the first three episodes. I don’t know how it’ll pan out. While Madden and Jonas are the stars of the show, Tucci and Manville steal it from under them. Tucci’s character, in particular, is a frequent source of comedic relief. His impeccable deliveries make the Marvel-esque humor more palatable. Plus, his scenes with Manville and the deeply-entrenched, unexplored history between their characters are more compelling than the action. Manville always makes for a delicious villain.
Overall, Citadel isn’t great, but it’s not awful, either. Most of the narrative beats are predictable. Even with this show’s jaw-dropping budget, expansive globetrotting, high-tech gadgetry and sleek fight choreography, something is missing. It feels hollow — bereft of heart. Here’s hoping the second half of the season changes my opinion.
Citadel premieres its first two episodes on Prime Video on Friday, April 28, 2023, with episodes dropping weekly until its season finale on May 26. The series will get a second season.