The newest series from Amazon Studios is CITADEL, an action-packed thriller series along the lines of THE BOURNE IDENTITY and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, with a little KINGSMAN thrown in for fun. It is available now from Prime Video. This project is headlined by The Russo Brothers,
The premiere episodes introduce us to the international spy agency Citadel and their work to prevent global incidents and wars being planned by bad actors and bad governments, and the discovery of Manticore, another agency funded by some of the wealthiest families in the world to counter their work, presumably to prevent Citadel from affecting their ability to sow chaos to profit from.
We will try to avoid as many spoilers as possible, while highlighting what we liked and what we think may have fallen short.
In “The Human Enigma”, the action opens on a train speeding through the Italian Alps, where we meet Citadel operatives Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) and Mason Kane (Richard Madden), ostensibly there to intercept a man intent on selling a case full of plutonium to terrorists. But the clandestine meet turns out to be a trap not just for Nadia and Mason, but is a signal for Manticore operatives to eliminate all of Citadel from top to bottom.
The scale of such a setup is impressive to consider, and having our two main protagonists fighting for their lives while also hearing their entire support system and team mates being killed all over the world on their comm systems is agonizing on a few levels. The way the entire scene is shot helps build both a foundation for their relationship with Citadel and each other, and the inclusion of the comms audio from other attacks increases the tension and concern for the viewer. I like where this is going.
Louis writes: From the get-go, you can see that there is considerable money being spent on this series with its excellent production values. The train is a marvel of Art Deco motifs. The cinematography is sharp, and Chopra-Jonas’ costume is beautiful.
When the initial fight scene started, I was a little worried that this series would be nothing but a series of choreographed personal combat sequences. The intercutting during the first fight with another scene helped make it more palatable to me.
The double amnesia that occurs with Mason and Nadia is a tried-and-true movie trope. It can be overused to make convenient story points or to fill plot holes. Here I liked the fact that it was not dwelled on too much with Mason’s character. He gets on with a new life. The flashbacks to his previous life as a spy became annoying to some degree. I hope that these will stop being used to further the plot.
The next act focuses on establishing how Mason had been living a normal life, 8 years later in Wyoming with a family, but also suffering from a total memory loss in the aftermath of the battle on the train. His work with a therapist on his lost memories leads to his old friends finding out where he is, and more intrigue ensues when the family is snatched away in the middle of the night, by Mason’s former handler Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci) and his team.
We get a little more about the history of Citadel and their purported mission, and how their organization was brought down by Manticore, and what Manticore’s modus operandi is. We also find out about Manticore’s work to acquire the rest of Citadel’s data vaults and technology, to either use it for themselves and make sure that no one else can try to use those resources against them and their plans.
Mason is told who he really had been, and recruited by Bernard to retrieve the last piece of hidden Citadel technology, after it has been located and stolen by Manticore. Bernard assumes what Manticore might do with the case once they have access to its contents, which is nothing that would ever benefit society or humanity.
Thus the first mission of Mason’s new life begins, with none of his training or memories to support him. Who can resist the “come with me if you want to live” call to action trope?
Next in “Spies Appear in the Night Time”, we find out what happened to Nadia in the aftermath of the attack on the train in Italy, and we also get clarification regarding the true nature of Mason’s amnesia. The recovery of the missing X-Case is mostly successful, but leads to a cascade of events I would classify as “convenient but necessary”, because problematic things need to happen to move the story in the desired direction (this can sometimes be a good thing, but sometimes it comes across as a little heavy handed plotimus ex machina). For example, the entirety of Episode 2 after Nadia’s flashback.
Mason and Bernard’s retrieval mission starts off well, but a full barrel of monkey wrenches upends the victory lap, and presents Mason with an obstacle that he and Bernard believed they have solved, only to have lost that key bit of intel forever.
Mason is forced to leave Bernard behind after a Manticore ambush, but he manages to find out that the woman from his lost memories, Nadia, has been located alive by the X-Case system, and the means to restore her missing memories are also in the case. Mason has a new objective: find Nadia, and get her to help him… stop a plot he knows nothing about, about an organization he knows nothing about, and no way to regain his lost memories and skills.
There is a ridiculous amount of plot convenience that gets Mason from New York to Spain to find Nadia and get her to remember herself the way Bernard tried to help him, as well as encounters that are designed to set up future interactions with the evil twins from Manticore. While the action is too engaging to think too hard about the manipulated reality… in the moment, at least, it’s hard not to think about the hints of plot holes to come.
But by the end of the episode, our heroes being back together again and starting a new mission to save the world is what we’ve been waiting for. The new big problem is that Bernard and all of his Citadel knowledge is now in the not-so-gentle hands of Dahlia Archer (Lesley Manville) and Manticore.
Louis writes: I liked the fact that the difference between Citadel and Manticore is clearly defined and described. In the follow-up to the second episode, “Citadel Declassified,” there is some indication that the black-and-white differences will begin to gray. That is all for the better in my book.
I found Tucci and Manville’s characters to be a bit over-the-top. Tucci’s glibness and idiosyncrasies make for an unappealing character and tedious viewing. Manville is no better as a classic villain. Clearly she can compartmentalize her life to do the things she has to do. But she comes off as just a cold cucumber with no human qualities whatsoever (growing roses doesn’t count).
The tech used in this series is very believable. It is not too far into the future to throw us for a culture shock. But the spy gear used is in accordance with other series such as Bourne and Bond.
So far human relationships are only presented in an abbreviated form. Clearly this is not the focus for this series. But you have to wonder if the seeds of the relationships which you can see being planted will turn into weeds versus flowers for the story.
The acting is good. Tucci and Manville are both skilled and experienced actors, both Oscar nominees. I hope that they get more to flesh out their characters. The other actors give credible performances.
All in all, I found this to be worthwhile-viewing. I hope that it stays imaginative in dealing with spy tropes. I also hope for more insight into characters like Bernard and Dahlia.
This series is intriguing enough to continue watching, especially given the balance between high powered and improbable (ie, fun) action scenes balanced with what can see as simmering emotional and moral complications being set up to come to a head later. While Season 1 is only 6 episodes long, the series has already been greenlit for a Season 2, as well as for several international spinoff series set in India, Spain, and Mexico, with the satellite series being in the local languages for those regions.
I also think I’m going to enjoy figuring out if the songs they are choosing to play over the end credits of each episode have a meaning of their own. It probably won’t be clear until after the next few episodes, but I’m curious if a pattern will emerge or if they have clues in them.
Episode 1 ends with “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff ‘n’ the Tears (1978), and Episode 2 ends with “Whizz Kid” by Mott the Hoople (1972).
Louis writes: The opening theme music reminded me of the basic Bond theme, which I thought was an appropriate touch. The songs included in the closing credits are very intriguing. As Summer noted, their significance, if any, remains to be seen. I, however, enjoyed the nostalgia of re-hearing these tunes.
The published budget for the series is $300 million, but there isn’t and detailed breakdown of those costs, whether that is production and marketing, or if that was just for Season 1, or Season 1 plus the international spinoffs purportedly already in production.
Amazon Studios’ latest action thriller CITADEL is available now on Prime Video.
Twitter: @CitadelOnPrime, #CitadelOnPrime
Eight years ago, Citadel fell. The independent global spy agency—tasked to uphold the safety and security of all people—was destroyed by operatives of Manticore, a powerful syndicate manipulating the world from the shadows. With Citadel’s fall, elite agents Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) had their memories wiped as they narrowly escaped with their lives. They’ve remained hidden ever since, building new lives under new identities, unaware of their pasts. Until one night, when Mason is tracked down by his former Citadel colleague, Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci), who desperately needs his help to prevent Manticore from establishing a new world order. Mason seeks out his former partner, Nadia, and the two spies embark on a mission that takes them around the world in an effort to stop Manticore, all while contending with a relationship built on secrets, lies, and a dangerous-yet-undying love.
"Citadel" opens on a confusing but energetic and entertaining world of spies
This series is intriguing enough to continue watching, especially given the balance between high powered and improbable (ie, fun) action scenes balanced with what can see as simmering emotional and moral complications being set up to come to a head later. While Season 1 is only 6 episodes long, the series has already been greenlit for a Season 2, as well as for several international spinoff series set in India, Spain, and Mexico.