Is the Russo brothers' spy thriller Citadel worth a watch?
Reading the premise for Citadel, you may have a faint flashback to the Russo brothers' 2022 film The Gray Man. In some ways, the two espionage projects are curiously similar: a starry cast, copious locations, excessively loud artillery fire.
The Gray Man was on every Netflix homepage for three days and then slipped into the humdrum catalogue ether, where it will presumably remain until the sequel is forced upon us. Yet with Citadel, the Russo brothers have hit their post-Marvel stride. Netflix higher-ups may be left feeling they missed the bang for their buck.
Prime Video's blockbuster offering follows Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) as elite agents of Citadel – an independent global spy agency. The opening scenes, on a high-speed train shooting through the Alps as the sun sets, regrettably fall into the run-of-the-mill spy-movie traps.
With Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci) on the earpiece blower, Nadia talks of enriched uranium in the suitcase of a sinister Russian man. One stock stereotype follows another when Nadia then opens her clutch bag of Q's gadget rejects, which includes an explosive disguised as perfume. Nadia later tells the Russian, Gregor, that she has a gun pointed at his nether regions, giving our femme fatale another tired spy cliché to add to the pile.
Yet once the train explodes and hurtles off a cliff edge into the picturesque lake below, Citadel is mercifully saved from the lazy beats we've all seen before. Instead, the action lunges forward eight years, to Mason and Nadia leading new lives after their memories were wiped amid the destruction of Citadel.
With no knowledge of his spy past, Mason is living the American Dream in what looks suspiciously like Hawkeye's secret house in Avengers: Age of Ultron (and even contains a newfound wife and child). Bernard soon tracks down Mason, who tracks down Nadia, amid a fresh threat from the shady enemy organisation Manticore, headed up by a moonlighting Dahlia Archer (Leslie Manville), who is cheerfully the UK ambassador to the US by day.
The Russos address the inevitable Jason Bourne comparisons head-on with a tongue-in-cheek joke and from there we're off on a rollicking ride. We zip from Zurich to Chicago to Wyoming to Valencia – if there's a state or city with a population, it's probably somewhere in this international extravaganza.
Defying the Russos' former 'Marvel bloat' that saw Endgame tip over the three-hour mark, each episode of Citadel comes in at a little over half an hour. Yet the show still maintains their bombastic and beloved filmmaking standards, with funny writing in creator David Weil's script, rapid-fire editing and fight scenes choreographed to leave the squeamish wincing.
Citadel manages to balance the fun and frenetic pace of this spy caper without ever getting lost in the scope of it all. This is largely down to a cast firing on all cylinders.
From the first scenes, Madden and Chopra exchange brooding looks and classic 'we have romantic history' patter as chemistry drips from their exquisitely lit skin. There's real momentum from when they're split to when they finally reunite, albeit with none of their memories of one another.
Yet the scene-stealing titleholder of the first two episodes of Citadel is Tucci, who gets to dip into both his droll turn in The Devil Wears Prada and his recent eerie outing as a murderer on death row in Inside Man. Aided in part by the fact he's gifted the wittiest lines of the script, Tucci's natural charm bounces off everyone around him – even if their mouth is sealed with duct tape.
Meanwhile, Manville promises to offer more chilling hijinks as less-than-sunny Dahlia, such as when she memorably threatens a member of the CIA beside a hedge of roses while sporting a coastal grandma-core straw hat. "Shall we plant explosives on your daughter's British Airways flight tomorrow from Oxford? Or shall we abduct your wife and bury her alive in my rose garden?" she asks with a cherubic smile.
There are only two of six episodes available for viewing, as Prime Video continues to move away from the binge approach to streaming, so it's possible Citadel goes the way of its fated train and skids off the rails in later episodes.
But so far, this rip-roaring romp is promising. If anything, the prospect of Manville and Tucci's characters locked in an ugly face-off for the foreseeable is enough to guarantee compulsive viewing.
The first two episodes of Citadel are available to stream on Prime Video on April 28, with new episodes each Friday.
You Might Also Like