Citadel, Review: When James meets, Jane it’s a Bond
Two franchises have set the benchmark as far as spy thrillers go. No marks for guessing that these are James Bond and Mission Impossible. It’s been a mind-boggling 61 years since the first James Bond film was released. Ethan Hunt, of Mission Impossible, first appeared on screen in 1996, 27 years ago. And neither seems to have called it a day. Both have a male protagonist, who performs mind-boggling stunts and survives against all odds. Hold your horses: here comes Citadel, which is a slightly archaic term for fort, fortress, stronghold, bastion, castle, refuge or sanctuary. It also stands for an exciting but highly unlikely pairing of British star Richard Madden and India’s Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, in a futuristic, grandly mounted, six-part (Season 1) web series, on Amazon Prime Video, that premiered yesterday.
Episode 1 is titled The Human Enigma. We see the inverted image of a train moving along the Italian Alps, with a woman in red in focus. She notices a man taking his seat and checks his details in his Russian passport, which is in her hands. His name is Gregor. She is in contact with Bernard Orlick, through a earphone, who indulges in small talk. Then, he comes to the point, and reminds her that Gregor is carrying a bag that has uranium in it and will sell it to the any number of nefarious bidders. Orlick has also armed the woman, who is called Nadia Sinh, with deadly gadgets, which she calls toys. A man approaches her and asks in Italian whether the seat next to her is taken. He adds that he got kicked out of the First Class compartment because it was a No Smoking bogey. Nadia responds that this is a No Smoking train. He replies that he does not smoke, but he does not like being told not to. Nadia informs him that the seat is taken and that she is waiting for a friend.
He sits down in any case. She switches to Mandarin for a moment, addresses the man as Mason, and asks him what he is doing there. There is a dash of German heard, and he replies that Grace needed the best here. Some Spanish later, he reminds Nadia that they are a team. She notices a wedding ring on Mason’s finger, which, he reveals, is part of his cover. Both reminisce about old times. It is time for action. Nadia heads for Gregor, his handler follows, and Mason follows the handler. The two men get into a really brutal fight, during which the handler pulls out a gun with a silencer. But Mason gets the better of him. Meanwhile Nadia goes up to Gregor, in the restaurant car, and gives him his passport, saying that he probably dropped his wallet in the passenger car. She gets cosy with him, and then pulls out a gun, demanding the uranium bag. It turns out that there is no uranium, and that Gregor knows her identity. The uranium story was all a plot to lure Citadel agents and hand deliver them a video showing the mayhem that has been perpetrated on Citadel operatives. Nadia asks Gregor who is he. Suddenly there is a lot of gunfire, and the Beretta is taken away from Nadia. Mason arrives in the nick of time and together, they manage to put six of Gregor’s men down. Before detonating a suicide bomb, Gregor says, “Manticore will always find you.”
Jointly created by Newton Thomas Sigel (director), David Weil (teleplay) and Josh Appelbaum & Bryan Oh and David Weil (story), Citadel has an undeniable James Bond hangover. The train fight has been a main attraction in several Bond films, and Citadel goes along that path. Here the action is breakneck, a fact that can be partly excused if we consider the possibility that the viewer can always pause and rewind to catch a detail. Ideally, there should be no need to do this. Confession: I did it! Episode 1 is titled The Human Enigma, but viewers will have to wait till the end to find anything enigmatic. That part of the story that I have revealed above is the type of content that constitutes the pre-titles scenes in Bond films, though they are obviously not so long. It seems odd that a rival outfit has to lay an elaborate plot about uranium and take a retinue of eight agents on a train ride in the Italian Alps just to lure a Citadel agent and show him/her a video on a laptop. Technology is way ahead of such a beginners’ scheme. And then, there seems to be no convincing reason for Gregor to blow up himself and the train. Josh Appelbaum has also been a co-producer and screenwriter for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. So it’s not Bond, is it? It’s Ethan Hunt. David Weil is a writer, producer, director and showrunner for television. He is known for creating the Amazon Prime Video television series, Hunters. Bryan Oh wrote some episodes of Life on Mars.
Conversations are cryptic and vague. Humour is subtle. There is swearing, too, which is no surprise. A woman agent launching a spy story on screen is not common, neither is the fact that the woman is an Indian actress. And she is given toys, a là Quartermaster Q, in Bond movies. Sadly, she does not get to use any of them. As the series progresses, we will see Artificial Intelligence and science fiction at play. Citadel has a way of erasing memories of its agents. In 2002’s The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne wakes up having been shot and unconscious, from the Mediterranean, on to a fishing boat, with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Citadel takes it several steps ahead and makes memory erasure a deliberate act, with the tools in the hands of the Citadel bigwigs. One wonders what was the context of Gregor saying “Manticore will always find you,” just before blowing himself and the train to smithereens. When nobody will remain, who will Manticore find? Both their top agents would be lunch for the fishes. Manticore, incidentally, turns out to be a rival spy agency, with an evil manifesto, and with an agenda to destroy Citadel.
Richard Madden, 37, is a Scottish Shakespearean actor who was seen as Robb Stark in Game of Thrones. In Bodyguard (2018), he played a Police Officer, not too far apart from Citadel’s Mason. It got him a Golden Globe Award. Since then, he has been seen in Rocketman, 1917 and Eternals. Although he is Scottish, like Sean Connery, one would little in common between them. He seems all too serious. Nevertheless, he handles action scenes well. The emotional bits follow, in the rest of Episode 1 and in Episode 2. As can be expected of a stage actor, his diction is very clear. His face, however, is rather waxen. Priyanka Chopra, going on 41, Miss World 2000, has won two national awards. She appeared on screen for the first time in 2002 and has done a huge variety of roles. Chopra was cast in the American thriller series Quantico as the character Alex Parrish, making Chopra the first South Asian to headline an American network drama series. With the characteristic tilt of her head, she plays the seductress-in-red to perfection. Her conversation with Richard Madden is quite natural, but the spark is missing. Stanley Tucci has too many differing roles under his belt, and is a good Bernard Orlick. Others in the main cast are Lesley Manville as Dahlia Archer, Osy Ikhile as Carter Spence, Ashleigh Cummings as Abby Conroy, Roland Møller as Anders Silje and Davik Silje and Caoilinn Springall as Hendrix Conroy.
Full of VFX, the technical aspect is on par with the standards. Cinematography is credited to the director, Newton Thomas Sigel, and Michael Wood. Citadel is a project largely backed by the Russo Brothers, Anthony and Joseph, the superhero specialists, who directed four films in the Marvel Comics Universe: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Citadel is entertaining, without excelling. The science fiction/spy thriller/artificial intelligence composite genre is not easy to plumb, with benchmarks being rather high, and many narratives/premises/angles/ploys/plot points already milked, over the last six decades. Though I have seen two episodes of Citadel, I will not include any spoilers in this review. As a web series, you need not set your expectations as high as a state-of-the-art big screen extravaganza. Watch it, in your spare time. James Bond, with Jane Bond sharring stellar honours, for 42 minutes, can’t be all that bad.
Rating: ** ½
(With Inputs from moviesfoundonline and filmfestivals)
#Citadel #Review #James #meets #Jane #Bond