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All That Glitter Isn’t Gold: a review of the first three episodes of Prime Video’s ‘Citadel’

I was extremely excited when I read the press release about the new spy show ‘Citadel’ over at Prime Video. Produced by the Russo Brothers (who helmed ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and ‘Avengers: End Game’), it’s a spy show with a complicated backstory that will unfold in two timelines and starring Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas. The press release talked about how the show will spin off to different shows about the same world of spies but set in different countries like India, Spain, and Mexico. On paper, it looked amazing but the first three episodes of the six episode first season left me a little concerned.

Without a doubt, ‘Citadel’ is expensive. There is a glossiness to the camerawork and the special effects used to enhance the explosive action sequence shows you they mean to create a spectacle. In each of the first three episodes, there are huge set pieces and fight scenes and a lot of CGI work that shows you that they had no limit to how much they can spend (it is reported that they spent 300 million on this show alone). So it looks great.

It also helps that Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas look amazing. From his work in the limited series ‘Bodyguard’ and ‘Game of Thrones,’ we know Madden can do action and he can exude an aura of a leading man. I’m not familiar with Chopra Jonas’ work but she looks great and believable going toe to toe with all the bad guys. There’s the usual banter and cheesy one-liners that comes with all these espionage shows and it feels more like James Bond than it does Jason Bourne. It’s more campy than it is serious about what it’s about.

It looks great but it goes so quickly into the plot that it leaves very little time for actual world building and making this story come alive. ‘Citadel’ is marketed as science fiction, set in a world where the spy organization Citadel was founded outside of any government to stop “evil” without care of government jurisdiction. It is an organization with unlimited funds and state-of-the-art technology, and it has been keeping the world in check for almost a hundred years but at the beginning of the first episode, we discover that Citadel has been attacked and wiped out by an evil organization called Manticore.

Enter Madden and Chopra Jonas: they are two Citadel operatives whose memories were wiped and were thought dead by Manticore. Before the memory wipe, they worked together and teased at having a sort of relationship but after the wipe, they lead ordinary lives unaware of their past until the last vestiges of Citadel have come back to make a last-ditch attack against their foe.

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All of this happens in the first episode that runs less than fifty minutes. Each episode is less than an hour and tries to cover as much of the narrative as it can while serving us big fight scenes and meaningful looks from Madden and Chopra Jonas. There isn’t any real time to really figure out who Kyle Conroy (Madden) really is or who Nadia (Chopra Jonas) is as spies. We know they are tough. We know they can do whatever comes their way. But we don’t actually ever really get to know who they are and the little things that make a character interesting. Even after three episodes, it’s all just in service to the plot, which has to keep going because the first season only has 6 episodes.

I’ve watched all the way until the halfway point and I still don’t feel invested in Kyle or Nadia as characters yet. 

It’s such a shame because Madden is such an interesting actor and he has all the charm and physicality for a character like this but he feels completely underutilized. While Stanley Tucci is having fun playing a one-dimensional character who gets to act all tough and say a lot of clever one-liners that don’t really hit their mark because the world isn’t set in stone yet.

It feels so generic to say that Citadel worked to stop evil. What is evil? How is it defined? Is it terrorism? Fascism? Is it corporate in nature? It’s so vague and even childish to just blatantly call it such. And why do they have so much money and power and even after Citadel fell (as you will see in the first 15 minutes of the pilot) how come they still have all the resources available to them? It’s these sorts of details that allows me to not take ‘Citadel’ too seriously and just watch it as a lightweight show.

Hopefully it gets better in the final three episodes. It looks great but all that glossiness and shine won’t amount to much if I don’t believe in this world or in its characters or what it is trying to say.

My Rating:

5 stars - Don't Look Up review




Watch Citadel on Prime Video.

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Citadel
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Prime Video

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