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‘Citadel’ dresses up an old-fashioned spy yarn with state-of-the-art action

<i>Prime Video</i><br/>Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas in the spy series
Prime Video
Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas in the spy series "Citadel."

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

“Citadel” has the feel of an old-fashioned spy show, dressed up with sleek leads (“Game of Thrones'” Richard Madden and “Quantico’s” Priyanka Chopra Jonas) and state-of-the-art action. The time-bending plot certainly won’t earn many points for originality, but it’s the kind of meat-and-potatoes series that should find an attentive audience on Amazon, which has already tapped into a similar vein with “Jack Ryan” and “Reacher.”

The series kicks off with the notion of a super-secret spy agency known as Citadel that actually toppled eight years before. Two of its top agents, Madden’s Mason Kane and Chopra Jonas’ Nadia Sinh, were a swashbuckling (and romantically linked) team.

Flash forward and Kane is living a quiet domestic life, with no memory of his Citadel days, until he’s abruptly pulled back into the spy racket. Forced to sink or swim, he relies mostly on muscle memory and fleeting images of his past to survive, under the stewardship of a former Citadel colleague, the fast-talking Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci, stealing every scene he’s in, as usual).

So what happened to Citadel, who’s behind the current threat, and who — if anyone — can be trusted? Those familiar issues power the show — produced by the Russo brothers, of “Avengers” renown, along with showrunner David Weil (“Hunters”) — through the opening flurry of episodes.

Much of that relies on the charisma of Madden, who certainly does nothing to quiet the buzz about his potential James Bond credentials with this role; and to a lesser degree Chopra Jonas, showcasing the duo in action sequences that certainly exhibit a big-screen flair (and reportedly, a budget to match).

While the series finds the humor in Kane’s uncomfortable amnesia (even making overt reference to the Jason Bourne franchise), the espionage component really holds sway, wedding the sensibility of fare like “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and “Mission: Impossible” with the best explosions and stunts money can buy — a cut above most TV fare from a production standpoint. Indeed, “Bourne” feels like the template on that score as well, thanks to the kinetic nature of the action.

Amazon hasn’t been bashful about throwing money around to bolster its streaming efforts, and “Citadel” muscularly caters to the action audience — a genre where Prime Video has arguably enjoyed more success with its aforementioned Tom Clancy and Lee Child book series adaptations than splashy fantasy and sci-fi offerings, except for “The Boys” (sorry, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”).

The major wrinkle with “Citadel” involves plans to produce different versions around the globe, including series in India and Italy. While that’s an intriguing nod to the increasingly global nature of the entertainment industry, this series has to stand or fall on its own. And for now, taking “Citadel” on its escapist terms, the spies have it.

“Citadel” premieres April 28 on Amazon’s Prime Video.

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