At some point during the course of the first three episodes, you stop expecting Citadel to be a genre-defining showstopper among all the myriad spy sagas we witness on-screen nowadays, and just happily give our money’s worth — like many of its predecessors have — following steadfastly in the wake of the amnesiacBourne movie universe.
But that’s the problem with Amazon’s glitzy, new, multi-million dollar project that already has Italian and Indian spin-offs in development; it can’t stop taking itself too seriously.
The idea of two extremely accomplished, good-looking spies (who have been romantically-involved in the past) reuniting after years of losing their memories to take down a bunch of evil oligarchs should easily lend itself to a lot of generic fun. Maybe it sounds basic, but that’s exactly what shows like The Night Agent and Reacher have pulled off in recent times, just by keeping it simple.
Unfortunately, Citadel wants to be more, tries too hard, and falls over itself in its pursuit of setting up a global franchise for years to come. Even with proven talent like the Russo brothers producing and showrunner David Weil at the helm, there’s just not enough fizz and way too much info-dumping to sustain our interest… so far.
Where it does succeed is in the casting. Leads Priyanka Chopra Jonas (Nadia Sinh) and Richard Madden (Mason Kane) bring all their big-budget acting/action chops to the fore, and there’s genuine chemistry between the two, as they flirt, banter and fight their way across zillions of villains. While Priyanka channels all her experience of headlining Bollywood tentpoles for decades (there’s a flash of Roma from Don in some of her impressive, deft moves), Richard’s bare-knuckle throwdowns have surely been perfected from his glorious Bodyguard past.
But the scene-stealer (was there ever a doubt?) is Stanley Tucci. Playing tech mastermind Bernard Orlick, Tucci is at his nonchalant best, adding personality and wit to the blandest of dialogues, as he Nick-Furys his way to (re)assemble the fallen Citadel organisation so they can stop their rivals, Manticore. Tucci’s wry smile conveying more than pages of dry exposition in Citadel is a testament to why he is one of the greatest supporting actors of our times; he is ably supported by the legendary Lesley Manville, who has a blast playing the shady British ambassador to the US.
Still, even Tucci can’t quite save every frame he’s in; there’s a particularly intense segment where his Bernard has to coach Mason (over an ear-piece) through stealing something from a building populated with Manticore agents, and the execution is so ludicrous, so entirely devoid of invention, that you can almost imagine the actors eye-rolling through the motions on set.
Is it too early to judge the show? Granted, there are three more episodes to go this season, we have seen relatively less of Priyanka’s Nadia (she’s just gotten her memory back after a decade) which hints at more character development, and some of the set-pieces — like the slick opening train sequence through the Italian Alps — are as good as they get.
For now though, Citadel is too template for its own good; this is one fortress that doesn’t quite deserve to be breached yet.
The first two episodes of Citadel are currently streaming on Amazon Prime, with weekly drops