HomeTv‘The Citadel’ Review: The Amazon series is silly fun if not too serious
‘The Citadel’ Review: The Amazon series is silly fun if not too serious
April 28, 2023
Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas star as international spies in the Russo brothers’ low-budget, big-budget bid to launch a global TV franchise.
Mason Kane is confused. Sitting in a parked van in front of a gleaming New York skyscraper, Mason’s new friend Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci) tries to reassure him that the task is easy. All Mason has to do is enter the building, pick up a briefcase, and leave. No further details are needed, as Bernard gives instructions through an earpiece the whole time. Still…Mason (Richard Madden) has questions. A lot of questions, though arguably less than he should have, considering that a few hours ago he thought his name was Kyle Conroy. He had a wife and a daughter. He lived in Oregon. He had some strange dreams every now and then, but he was happy. Then Bernard showed up and blew it all to hell. It turns out that Kyle’s real name is Mason Kane, he used to be a spy for an elite independent international agency, and he can’t remember anything because he was in a train accident eight years ago, which left him with almost complete amnesia. Oh, and the building you’ll be going into? It’s the headquarters of his agency’s sworn enemy, so everyone inside wants to kill him.
See? You might have questions too. Like what there is the actual plan here?” or “How do I avoid getting shot?” or “Why didn’t we fly From Oregon to New York instead of driving a battered old Chevy across the country? But whether you’re Mason or just watching him in Amazon Prime Video’s new series, “The Citadel,” it’s best not to ask those questions. The ideal course of action is to follow Bernard’s terse advice and embark on the journey, no matter how stupid, suicidal or unnecessarily long it may seem.
To be fair, “The Citadel” isn’t long—it’s pretty quick about the whole world-savior business. Season 1 consists of only six episodes. Each of the first three is no longer than 40 minutes. The characters jump from one end of the country to the other, or even from one end of the world to the other, in a matter of seconds. We accept many other actions previously thought impossible as reasonable, even commonplace, with no more explanation than puzzlement, all of which speak of saying effective the spy series turns out to be.
Does it matter? Not really. Does it look sleek and polished like a $200 million action thriller? Eh. But does everyone have a favorite? mixologist perform maximally? Does it provide enough fun to make you fall in love with these otherworldly hotties on impossible missions? Does it cover the absurd twists and shocking secrets that lie in shows about professional liars? Yes, yes, and yes. “The Citadel” often tries to be good — and by “good,” I mean it tries to take its innately absurd story far too seriously. But from the essential narrative to the maximalist action and cheeky sense of humor, there’s enough goofy fun to make it worth your money, even if I can’t say the same for Amazon.
Let’s go back a bit. “The Citadel” begins eight years ago, when Mason still has all his memories. On board the ill-fated train, he meets Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas), a fellow spy and former partner who might be more than just a job. The two engage in sarcastic yet affectionate banter before their target takes off and our flirtatious agents are forced to give chase. Guns are drawn, punches are thrown, and melee ensues, but when it’s all done, Nadia and Mason learn that there’s a new bad guy in town and the good guys are screwed.
Eight years later, Nadia is in the wind (presumably dead, but come on) and Mason doesn’t remember being Mason anymore. The Manticore (the bad guys) have destroyed the Citadel – the independent and international spy agency that both agents worked for – and Bernard is the only one still standing. Fortunately, he discovers that Mason is still alive, just in time to avert the impending crisis… or so they hope.
Richard Madden and Stanley Tucci in The Citadel
Courtesy of Prime Video
The premiere, written by no less than five grown men, wraps it all up in a neat little package. Despite the many new languages to learn and names (real and fake) to follow, the audience should have no trouble keeping up. The two main characters are spies. They may not (but definitely) love each other. Someone is always trying to kill them because bad guys do bad things.
Still, I wouldn’t blame anyone for stopping the mid-exposure dump of “The Citadel,” as five-time Emmy winner Stanley Tucci drops five minutes of background that, in case it’s unclear who should be rooting for, includes grainy images of our stars in the “GOOD” next to captioned news. Also irritating are the blown-out VFX backgrounds, over-cut action scenes and grayed-out images meant to convey gravity – not to mention a basic story any 10-year-old could have concocted on the playground. (“There are a lot of good spies—the best spies in the world – and a bunch of bad spies and they fight! Nuclear codes! Explosions! Oh, but not too much kissing.)
But there is also joy in watching actors, both great and good, commit themselves to such juveniles. Lesley Manville – yes, “Mrs. Harris” himself! – the villain! He makes obscene threats while tending his garden and brutal torture over tea! Tucci makes sure every rousing line sounds like he’s ad-libbed and drops just the hell out of the idiosyncratic commentary, and even Richard Madden, the human jawline, settles into a charming repartee that’s just charming enough. Chopra Jonas does even better, recognizing every bit of dialogue and either dropping it or changing the inflection so the words don’t sound too corny.
Now is when I note that “The Citadel” is not just a serial spy thriller in which the good guys try to save the world from the bad guys. (Though it literally includes the line “We’re the good guys.”) In the words of Amazon Prime Video’s press release, this season is the first chapter in a “landmark global franchise.” Creators Josh Appelbaum, Bryan Oh and David Weil, along with executive producers Joe and Anthony Russo, envision multiple series that will spin off from “The Citadel” and shoot any spinoffs, sequels or “connected stories” “in the region.” The next chapters are already filming in Italy and India, and as the franchise evolves, more countries and actors will be added to create Prime Video’s original, wholly owned, worldwide “Citadel” television universe.
…assuming the first six episodes are successful. Amazon has already renewed the original “Citadel” for a second season, and the first half of Season 1 will reveal how this story can be expanded into other areas. But it’s a bit more obscure why even those who respond favorably to Mason and Nadia’s mission would jump into another series set in the same world. Second season? Maybe, but “Citadella” isn’t really that special. It’s a polished action series with gadgets, twists and spectacle, but it’s essentially traditional. The unique elements (if you can call them that) are not easy to expand on, since they are in the performances, the fast-paced dialogues, and especially in how stupid it all seems. Your emotional investment can and should be minimal, even if Amazon’s financial investment wasn’t.
Franchises are usually created because the audience invests in the world, the characters, or their own nostalgia. “Citadel” is mostly enjoyable because it’s so disposable. Maybe that will change in the second half of the debut season, but I hope not. Instead of veering further into drama, “The Citadel” seems better suited to piling on extreme gimmicks — no questions asked.
“The Citadel” premieres Friday, April 28 on Amazon Prime Video with two episodes. New episodes will be released weekly until the Season 1 finale on May 26.