Amazon’s Expensive Spy Thriller Citadel Is All Spectacle, No Substance

3 minute read

If you set out, with a colossal budget, to make a show that would attract the broadest possible worldwide audience—and you already had a Tolkien adaptation—you might come up with Citadel. Executive produced by Marvel hitmakers the Russo brothers, the Amazon espionage thriller casts Indian megastar Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard “Robb Stark” Madden as top operatives and former lovers in an elite international spy agency called Citadel. Episodes jump from location to glamorous location (a multilingual, intercontinental Citadel universe is in the works). Stanley Tucci and Lesley Manville add gravitas. Explosions, chases, and other action spectacles take up a huge percentage of the total screen time.

Premiering April 28, it’s James Bond meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith, modified to fit a painstakingly international premise, but without the self-aware fun. In a kinetic opening sequence, Chopra Jonas’ Nadia Sinh and Madden’s Mason Kane are on a train zooming through the Alps, bantering flirtily, battling thugs in the bathroom, and aiming pistols at bad guys’ private parts. But the mission goes sideways; so does the train, right off a cliff. Behind this elaborate trap—which ends Citadel—is Manticore, a nefarious global syndicate of wealthy families who oppose the independent agency’s maddeningly vague mandate to protect “the safety and security of all people.” As Nadia and Mason’s colleague Bernard (Tucci) puts it: “You wouldn’t know we existed, but we helped shape every major event for good in the past hundred years.”

Stanley Tucci in CitadelPaul Abell—Prime Video

While the agents survive the derailment, each has their memory wiped. By the time Bernard comes looking for him, eight years later, Mason has a civilian life, complete with wife and daughter. And, wouldn’t you know it, the fate of the world hangs on him reuniting with Nadia to stop yet another potentially catastrophic Manticore plot. Love triangle alert!

The performances are charming and the pyrotechnics impressive. But when the smoke clears, geopolitical window dressing aside, the show has little to say on the state of the world. Whether it’s due to behind-the-scenes turbulence, including the replacement of a showrunner and extensive reshoots, or comes out of the difficulty of making a spy thriller palatable to people in all of the 200-plus countries and territories where Prime Video is available, the absence of substantive ideas, or even much Bond-style humor, makes Citadel feel pretty pointless. Maybe it’s possible to make a great show that appeals to everyone without offending anyone, but this isn’t it.

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