I watched Citadel on Prime Video – and The Night Agent and James Bond have nothing to worry about

Mason and Nadia prepare to fight in Citadel on Prime Video
Citadel is a spy thriller series that tries too hard to replicate Bond and Bourne. (Image credit: Prime Video)
Citadel: key information

- Exclusive to Prime Video
- Launches on Friday, April 28 with a two-episode premiere
- Stars Richard Madden, Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, and Stanley Tucci
- Created by David Weil and Josh Appelbaum
- Directed by Newton Thomas Sigel
- Executively produced by The Russo Brothers

 The spy genre is undergoing something of a TV renaissance. Shows like The Night Agent, one of the best Netflix series around, and espionage-heavy Star Wars series Andor have brought thrills and spills back to the small screen in crowd-pleasing fashion. Truthfully, the TV-based world of secret agents, expensive gadgets, and stylishly fraught narratives has never been better.

With HBO Max and Paramount Plus also entering the spy show fray – with White House Plumbers (on May 1) and Rabbit Hole (out now), respectively – Prime Video can’t afford to be left behind in the fight for ‘hottest spy show of 2023’. Step forward Citadel, a sophisticated, at times ruthless, spy series that Amazon hopes will win it this particular showdown. Based on its blood-pumping trailer, a teaser in which co-lead star Rich Madden goes full James Bond, Citadel has the capacity to do so, too.

Sadly, Citadel doesn’t live up to its swashbuckling billing. It desperately wants to emulate James Bond and Jason Bourne, iconic spy franchises that marry style and substance with aplomb. However, Citadel‘s struggle to find a balance between the two, coupled with its threadbare plot that's packed with baffling narrative decisions, mean it’s nothing more than a vanilla-lite clone of what’s come before.

The world is not enough 

Mason Kane stares at a high-tech screen of his spy profile in Citadel

Citadel is set in a neo-futuristic world where spy agencies dominate the landscape. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)

Citadel stars Madden (Game of Thrones)  and Priyanka Chopra Jonas (The Matrix Resurrections) as Mason Kane and Nadia Sinh, secret agents employed by the titular global counter-intelligence organization, which isn’t affiliated to any set nation.

During a seemingly routine mission, Kane and Sinh are ambushed by Manticore, a secretive and powerful syndicate with ambitions on manipulating world events. To prevent Citadel from thwarting its master plan, Manticore destroys its rival from the inside, leaving Kane, Sinh, and fellow secret operative Bernard Orlick (Spotlight’s Stanley Tucci) as Citadel’s only apparent survivors. In the resulting skirmish aboard a bullet train, which ends up crashing, Kane and Sinh are severely injured, losing their memories in the process.

Eight years later, the two live new, independent lives, seemingly unaware of who they were before. However, when Orlick unceremoniously re-enters their lives seeking help, Kane and Sinh are drawn back into the dangerous world of espionage – and, crucially, are the only individuals who can stop Manticore from establishing a new world order.

An injured Nadia talks to Mason on a train in Citadel

Citadel's lead stars lack the spicy yet effortless chemistry needed for a series of this ilk. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)

So, it’s a story that’s difficult to describe? Initially, yes. One of the foremost problems Citadel has, though, is that its narrative doesn’t continue to be as elaborate as it’s intended, nor is it as mysterious as I expected.

Madden, Chopra Jonas, and Tucci are great casting – Tucci, in particular, is delightfully ruthless, cocky, and intelligent as Orlick

In actuality, Citadel reveals some of its more compelling secrets from the get-go. It isn’t shy about showing you who’s pulling the strings where Manticore is concerned – a Wizard of Oz-style reveal, this is not – and it can’t wait to unveil (or, at the very least, tease) the identities of double agents in Citadel’s ranks. Without wanting to brag, I worked out one of these supposedly big character revelations, which is confirmed in its third episode, midway through the premiere. Disclosing these potentially shocking reveals so early in the show’s run is a weird flex, even if later episodes suggest these are misdirects to throw viewers off the scent, and frustratingly remove the element of audience participation in deducing who the mole inside Citadel really is.

This isn’t the only perplexing creative decision taken by showrunner David Weil (Solos, Hunters) and Marvel filmmaking alumni Joe and Anthony Russo, who executively produced Citadel.

Dahlia Archer sits on a couch as she's interviewed in Citadel on Prime Video

Lesley Manville stars as Dahlia Archer, one of Citadel's supporting characters. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)

The overuse of – or, in some key instances, lack of – plot exposition is strangely inconsistent, as is the sometimes punchy, sometimes cringey dialog. Sequences, such as the one that sees Kane infiltrate a Manticore base to retrieve the X-Case (a vital piece of Citadel tech) with little resistance in episode 2, border on amateurish, too. Surely one of Citadel’s most skilled spies shouldn’t be able to walk into enemy headquarters unopposed, recover a macguffin, and be unrecognizable to every Manticore guard until he’s effectively exiting the building? Such clumsy writing doesn’t do Citadel any favors whatsoever.

Glaring oversights of this nature are maddening as Citadel is conceptually intriguing. Its neo-futuristic world and alluring themes mean Citadel could be a cinematic franchise worth exploring in greater detail (spin-off shows set in this fascinating sci-fi universe are already in development). The mainline show’s nonlinear storytelling, which covers Kane and Sinh’s backstories and fills in the gaps between Citadel’s fall and present-day events, is also used to good effect. Unfortunately, while it’s visually arresting and thematically appealing, Citadel’s overarching plot and character development just isn’t up to scratch.

Born identities

Bernard Orlick points a gun at someone off-screen in Citadel on Prime Video

Stanley Tucci's Bernard Orlick is one of the excellent, brighter lights in Citadel. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)

Okay, so Citadel’s story, among other things, is average at best. But what about its starry cast?

Regrettably, the series’ talented ensemble suffers from the same inconsistencies as its narrative. Madden (ropey US accent aside), Chopra Jonas, and Tucci are great casting – Tucci, in particular, is delightfully ruthless, cocky, and intelligent as Orlick. Leslie Manville (The Crown), Ashleigh Cummings (Westside), and Roland Møller (Atomic Blonde) are solid supporting cast inclusions.

It’s the erratic chemistry between certain actors, though, where Citadel’s cast stumbles. The pairing of Madden and Chopra Jonas, a key component of the series, isn’t sparky enough to convince me that their characters share a lengthy, complicated past. Compare that with Madden and Tucci’s effortlessly dramatic and amusing coupling, and you’ll see how some partnerships click better than others.

Disclosing these potentially shocking reveals so early in the show’s run is a weird flex

The fingerprints of Citadel’s chief creative team are, though, easily (and at times pleasingly) identifiable throughout its first three episodes. Weil’s penchant for hyperviolence is woven into the fabric of the show’s action sequences that, by and large, are well designed, albeit a tad derivative and composited with some questionable visual effects. Fans of the Russo brothers may be happy, or humorously relieved, to hear that the filmmakers’ visual calling card – those giant white location name tags, as seen in the likes of Captain America: Civil War and The Gray Man – are also accounted for. Director Newton Thomas Sigel’s use of rotating camera shots even speaks to the twisty-turny aspect of Citadel’s primary plot. It’s just a pity (in my mind, anyway) that such visual flair is a far more enjoyable part of the series’ makeup than its story. 

My verdict

Despite its attempts to tell a uniquely riveting and mysterious globetrotting tale, Citadel is anything but a stone-cold classic spy-tech thriller. The disparity within its makeup, most notably its bewilderingly volatile story beats, and overall unoriginality makes for a bland spy series that I simply can’t recommend. Subsequently, don’t expect it to work its way onto our best Prime Video shows list.

There are clear reasons for the inconsistencies at Citadel’s heart. The change in showrunner – Weil replaced original creator Josh Appelbaum in December 2021 due to creative differences between the latter and the Russos – is arguably the main reason why. Add in the subsequent discarding of some of Appelbaum’s material and the expensive reshoots that followed – Amazon reportedly spent an eye-watering $300 million on the first season alone (per The Hollywood Reporter), making it the second most expensive Prime Video series ever after The Rings of Power – and Citadel is less of a well-connected show, and more like a Frankenstein’s Monster of incongruent ideas.

For a TV show that cost so much, I expected more from Citadel. Its trailer and A-list cast might make it seem an appealing option to stream on Prime Video when it launches. Lamentably, though, Citadel isn’t subversive, clever, or exciting enough to maintain my interest – and it likely won’t do the same for you, either.

Citadel’s first two episodes will be released exclusively on Prime Video on Friday, April 28. New episodes follow weekly until the season 1 finale on Friday, May 26.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

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