Executive Producers: Chris Black, Matt Fraction, Matt Shakman, and Joby Harold
Anna Sawai and Godzilla in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters
I am a lifelong Kaiju fan. As a little boy, I tried to dial in Godzilla vs. Megalon at 3:00 in the afternoon on Channel 12. So this will be a big year for me. Lots of Godzilla for my ten-year-old fandom. First off, Toho Studios is looking like they are getting serious again with Godzilla, with the devastating-looking feature film Godzilla Minus One which arrives in early December. Legendary Studios and Apple + are also getting into the Godzilla game this year, with the upcoming big-budget adventure series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. This series builds on the recent Godzilla and King Kong-based films from the past decade.
The Legendary Godzilla-Verse
I was a fan of the Gareth Edwards-directed Godzilla from 2014. To me, it re-established the scale and pure awesomeness of the King of the Monsters. I did not mind the limited use of the big guy in the movie. Edward’s movie played with quiet restraint. Serious actors somberly watched the devastation of San Francisco by Godzilla and two giant MUTOS. Now, the MUTOS were adequate foils for Godzilla, but Mothra they weren’t. Inevitably, legions of Godzilla fans demanded “More monsters! Monsters that I recognize! Less people!”
Legendary listened to these criticisms, and we gotGodzilla, King of the Monsters, Kong Skull Island, andGodzilla vs. Kong. Which, to be honest, is a mixed blessing to be generous. The monsters in these films were great! This is also what made the Toho monster movies so much fun. The rock-em sock-em kaiju antics that every eight-year-old child who was a fan of stompy monsters just ate up. The improvement of technology and the high-quality seamless CGI and thunderous soundtracks made these must-see cinema watching for fans of the genre.
If I had the fast-forward button as a kid, I would have zipped right through the parts of the human characters. Unfortunately the humans, despite good casting, particularly in Godzilla KotM were annoying or foolish, or both. I wish they had embraced the tone a bit more of the Edwards movie. The humans in Godzilla KotM were afterthoughts to the main story of Titans wanting to throw down. If I am being honest with myself, I would pay for a Richard Attenborough-narrated faux documentary nature film of giant Kaiju just doing kaiju things, without having to deal with humans at all.
It is important to recognize that creating a monster-heavy show correctly would be hugely expensive, particularly for a streaming TV show. You want to see the monsters, and you want lots of episodes, and therein lies the difficulty of the assignment. Can you do a quality stompy giant monster series and make the humans relevant and relatable?
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters (Ep 1.1 – 1.5) Synopsis
This brings us to Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, a 10-episode series produced by Legendary Features for Apple +. A nominally ten-hour show featuring kaiju, and utilizing digital creations like what was used for the feature films would be an inordinately expensive proposition, so the showrunners went back to the Gareth Edwards model. Like the feature film, Monarch used the monsters sparingly and placed a greater emphasis on the humans. Accordingly, they kept the spirit of adventure, and always have the Titans (Kaiju) as the MacGuffin that sends our characters around the world.
The show makes true use of the word Legacy, as it hop-scotches across the globe and the timeline, following the exploits of the Titan chasing government agency, Monarch from its inception in the 1950s to 2015 after Godzilla has already destroyed San Francisco. We are introduced to Cate (Anna Sawai) a young grade school teacher and survivor of Gozilla’s destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge. She has arrived in Tokyo to claim the possessions of her presumed deceased father. Upon opening her father’s apartment door, she discovers that her father had a family in Japan as well. Cate now has a half-brother she never knew she had in Kentaro (Ren Watabe). Not surprisingly, neither of them seemed thrilled with this new revelation.
The other big secret that their father kept from both of them was that he was a founding member of Monarch, and he might still be alive.
We flashback to 1959 Kazhakstan where we meet scientists Dr. Keiko Mira (Mari Yamamoto) and Bill Randa (Anders Holm), and their military liaison Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell). These intrepid explorers are investigating a strange radioactive anomaly that they suspect might point to the presence of Titans. They are cryptid chasers of extremely large and surprisingly elusive quarry. They have discovered an abandoned nuclear site that is likely to attract the mega-beasts.
Returning to the near-present, Kentaro and Cate discover a secret stash of classified Monarch documents belonging to their father. They enlist the help of Kentaro’s ex-girlfriend May (Kiersey Clemons) who is a hacker and quasi-underworld ghost to try and crack the files. By doing so, it draws the attention of a couple of Monarch Agents Tim (Joe Tippett) and Duvall (Elisa Lasowski). This leads to a confrontation that forces the young trio to an uncomfortable alliance on the run from Monarch, and into the presence of Lee Shaw (Kurt Russell), who reveals that Dr. Mari was their grandmother and that their father was like a nephew to him.
Unfortunately, just like the young runaways, the elderly Shaw too has run afoul of Monarch, so they all sneak off on a globetrotting adventure to try and find the now presumed surviving Hiroshi Randa. There is plenty of additional backstory of the history of Shaw and Monarch, some of which is pretty thrilling. There will be at least some, but not a lot of Kaiju in each episode. Which, given the limitations of a television budget is understandable. Therefore, the characters get plenty of backstory and development along with plenty of inter-family and relationship melodrama.
I do think the show treats Godzilla with appropriate reverence. This is pre-Boston and pre-Shanghai Godzilla, as the timeline of 2015 puts us before the release of Godzilla (2014) and Godzilla King of the Monsters (2019). Because, until those events happen, the world at large is not yet aware of Rodan, Gidhorah, or Mothra. But it will be interesting if they reveal how much Monarch is aware of, and what the status is of the hollow earth. There are at least two new Kaiju/Titans in the first five Episodes, so it appears that Legendary is going to set their own markers for new monsters. Don’t hold your breath just yet for Anguirus, Hedorah, or Megalon.
The script is tight and the production is energetic. There is nothing worse than an adventure that drags. This story hops along at a nice clip. Sometimes the angst of the twenty-somethings gets a little annoying, but the main story beats are strong. The characters are interesting and charismatic, which makes it an engaging production. The plot holds at least science fiction logic, which I will take. And, the trademark high-quality production values that Legendary and Apple are known for are in full evidence here. I watched five of the first ten episodes and so far, the flow of the story works well. I definitely have been left wanting more.
Far and away the highlight of this show for me is the inclusion of the father and son tandem of Kurt and Wyatt Russell. That they play the same character is a bit of a genius move by Legendary. Wyatt really does look and sound so much like his dad, and Kurt is in fine form here. (That jawline!) One of the best running gags in the show is that Colonel Shaw should be a man in his late eighties or early nineties. Everyone, including Shaw, admits to this fact. “Hey, you look great for your age!” And of course, it’s true, he does look great!
I take this as a nod from the producers to the audience saying “Yes, we know… but we couldn’t resist. C’mon! It’s KURT RUSSELL” Kurt is in fact, 72 years old, which would have made Lieutenant Shaw a nine-year-old in the flashbacks. So, yeah, I’ll forgive them just so we could get both Russells in the production. It works, and it helps that they both ooze charisma.
If you are looking for scary monster action, you will probably be more eager to see Godzilla Minus One. If you want non-stop monster brawls, you may want to stick with the ’60s and ’70s Toho films or the Legendary Features. But this is a well-made action series, with some solid drama and comedy beats built in. The script propels the action along in a very engaging way. When it does bring the Titans, it brings them with awesome force. You FEEL their presence. If this does well, and they renew the series, I would be interested if they actually bring Kong to the franchise. We do see some Skull Island at the beginning of Episode One, so here’s hoping!
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters will be released with a two-episode global premiere on November 17, 2023, and new episodes will follow every Friday through January 12. This series would likely merit a PG-13 rating for language and apocalyptic themes, and it is probably too intense for young children.