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Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard Madden star in a wannabe blockbuster that falls flat
We all know how great art is created. It's not through creative inspiration, or perhaps an artist spending years working within a medium, finely tuning their craft in order to put something beautiful, moving, and maybe even lasting into the world. No, most great art begins in a boardroom, where corporate bigwigs sketch out a plan to make money in various markets and then see if there's any idea floating around in the entertainment industry that can get those international dollars printing.
I'm not entirely sure who's at fault for the offensively dull spy "thriller" Citadel, because surely there's plenty of blame to go around, but here's what we know about its inception: Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios, approached the Russo brothers (best known for their directing work with Marvel) about creating a show that could appeal to Amazon's international market, one that could act as a tentpole series that would then inspire multi-language spin-offs in various countries.
That kind of cold, cynical approach to the creation of TV is felt deeply in the three episodes of Citadel that were made available to critics. This is a show that doesn't have an identity. There's no driving creative force, no sense of personality, no unique flair or passion. Instead, Citadel operates as a bland, paint-by-numbers spy show that ticks off every familiar storytelling device and trope you can think of but fails to muster any intrigue along the way, all while trotting the globe in an attempt to create a market for spin-offs.
The series, to its credit, starts with a bang, as spies Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) slink their way through a moving train in order to obtain a briefcase full of uranium. Before long, the two discover they've been double-crossed and that some sort of shady organization is wiping out all of the Citadel agents. A gunfight ensues, the train blows up, and we're transported eight years into the future, where Mason, who has no memory of his previous life, is now living as a family man named Kyle in Virginia.
By the end of the first episode, Kyle has learned of his old identity thanks to being kidnapped and brought up to speed by the only other known surviving Citadel member, Bernard Orlick (a delightful, quippy Stanley Tucci). He's told that he's needed back in action in order to secure a briefcase that has "all the codes to every nuclear weapon in the world," and the audience learns that, of course, Nadia survived the blast eight years ago and is… somewhere.
Look, I'm all for lean, mean plotting and cutting down on streaming bloat, but Citadel is a ship without a captain, careening through the ocean with no clue where it's headed. The condensed story is clearly the result of a disastrous production that included a change in showrunners and numerous reshoots, and apparently there was little left to salvage in terms of an emotional core.
If you were being generous, you could say that some of the action keeps the series moving, but that's not really enough to keep anyone engaged across even the first three episodes, never mind the six that Amazon ordered in the first season (a second season is already reportedly in the works). The lead performances are flat, the storytelling is rote, and for a show with such a massive budget most of the scenes look muddled and indistinct, with particularly bad CGI. Citadel is a formulaic, drab bit of business.
Premiered: First two episodes premiered Friday, April 28 on Prime Video, followed by a new episode each Friday
Who's in it: Richard Madden, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Stanley Tucci, Lesley Manville
Who's behind it: David Weil (Showrunner), Joe and Anthony Russo (Executive producers)
For fans of: Paint-by-numbers spy thrillers with no emotional core
How many episodes we watched: 3 of 6