MONARCH: LEGACY OF MONSTERS | AppleTV+ | November 17, 2023
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wyatt Russell, Anna Sawai, Kiersey Clemons, Ren Watabe, Mari Yamamoto, Anders Holm, Joe Tippett, Elisa Lasowski
Developed By: Chris Black, Matt Fraction
Following the thunderous battle between Godzilla and the Titans that leveled San Francisco and the shocking revelation that monsters are real, “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” tracks two siblings following in their father’s footsteps to uncover their family’s connection to the secretive organization known as Monarch. Clues lead them into the world of monsters and ultimately down the rabbit hole to Army officer Lee Shaw (played by Kurt Russell and Wyatt Russell), taking place in the 1950s and half a century later where Monarch is threatened by what Shaw knows. The dramatic saga — spanning three generations — reveals buried secrets and the ways that epic, earth-shattering events can reverberate through our lives.
FIRST LOOK REVIEW: Episodes 1 Through 8 (10) By Darren Zakus
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters gives an interesting look at the organization working in the shadows tracking the monsters that roam the Earth, that despite a strong cast and some interesting ideas, fails to deliver the same exciting spectacle of the films or to enrich them with its story.
Back in 2014, Godzilla was reinvigorated for audiences with Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, marking the first film in the MonsterVerse. The series continued to introduce more legendary Toho monsters such Ghidorah and Rodan, as well as setting up a cinematic brawl between Godzilla and King Kong. Aside from the monsters, the link between all the films in this shared universe has been the mysterious Monarch organization, the secret government agency investigating the existence of the monsters and attempting to manage their existence. While the latest AppleTV+ series may be short on the spectacle monster brawls that have defined the films, it gives audiences a long awaited look at Monarch and its history to fill in the backstory of the MonsterVerse.
Set after the events of Godzilla (2014), Cate Randa travels to Japan to settle her father’s estate, and makes a shocking discovery upon her arrival about her family and its past. Tying all the secrets about her family together is the mysterious Monarch organization, who have set their sights on Cate to ensure that their secrets are not revealed to the world Simultaneously, the series follows Keiko, a young female scientist in the 1950s investigating the existence of monsters and her role in the creation of Monarch.
Monarch has been operating in the shadows of the MonsterVerse since the beginning of the series back in 2014’s Godzilla, but fans have not gotten great insight into the secret organization… until now. The new television series spans generations of the founding family of Monarch, answering questions about the organization's origins, their initial encounter with Godzilla and the other MUTOs, and their operations after Godzilla’s first appearance to the public after the events of Tokyo and San Francisco in 2014. Using the Randa family as the audience’s entry to Monarch, family drama unfolds as Cate and Kentaro discover secrets from their family’s past and their grandparents and father’s involvement in Monarch. There are two distinct storylines at play: Cate and Kentaro’s search for answers and for their father in 2015, and Keiko and Bill’s search for monsters and the creation of Monarch in the 1950s. Without question, the series is strongest when focusing on the origins of Monarch in the 1950s as it is the more interesting story and gives audiences valuable insight that they have not seen in the films in the franchise. The majority of the story takes place in the 2015 timeline, and while there is nothing wrong with the story as it has the most family drama and monster encounters, it feels more generic than the rich origins of Monarch in the other timeline.
Where the series struggles is to justify the need for its existence. While it may seem like a series focusing on the origins of Monarch may have some larger implications for the Godzilla and Kong films going forward, the writers fail to provide any insightful plot elements for the franchise as a whole in the first eight episodes. The story starts off strong in the first couple of episodes, setting up lots of intrigue and questions to be answered over the course of the season. But with each large reveal that the characters discover about the existence of monsters in the world, none of them have the shocking impact that is intended as the information being revealed was already presented to audiences in either Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla: King of the Monsters or Godzilla vs. Kong. Unless there are some shocking discoveries to be revealed in the final two episodes, which I hope as that could raise my score considerably, there is not much to rave about this series. The series merely connects the backstory behind the main films in the series, and while it is entertaining and enjoyable to watch, this was not a missing link in the story that needed to be filled in.
The series features a large ensemble cast, with each member of the cast giving a good performance. It’s fun seeing Kurt Russell and Wyatt Russell playing the same character in different timelines of the series, but the strongest performances lie in the 1950s storyline. Mari Yamamoto is excellent as Keiko, the lead scientist of Monarch and the reason for its existence. When she is on screen, Yamamoto is compelling as her character fearlessly searches for answers about the monsters, while fighting sexism and racism as a Japanese woman working in a male dominated environment in the 1950s. Anders Holm is fun as a younger Bill Randa, John Goodman’s character from Kong: Skull Island, and the chemistry he shares with Yamamoto is sweet and endearing. Wyatt Russell is a great co-lead opposite Yamamoto as Lee Shaw, bringing a vulnerability to his military character that makes for an engaging character arc between the two timelines, with his performance being matched by his father as an older version of Lee Shaw. The rest of the cast in the 2015 timeline is good, but with the less engaging and fascinating of the two storylines, they are not given the material to shine like the cast in the 1950s storyline.
Even though the series is more focused on Monarch rather than the monster mayhem that the films gave the spotlight to, there are still many Godzilla and other MUTO sightings. The special effects and CGI utilized to bring the monsters to life is spectacular, matching the films in terms of quality, ensuring that despite this being a streaming series that the monster sequences are the exhilarating and exciting moments audiences loved on the big screen. While there has yet to be any monster brawls that famously populated the final acts of the films, it appears that the series is building to one big monster moment in the final two episodes that should be great.
There is no denying that there is entertainment to be gained from Monarch: Legacy of Monsters as it shows a different side to the MonsterVerse than the typical giant monster rampage and battles. While it starts off strong and has promise to provide some valuable insight into the MonsterVerse, the series sadly reverts back to ideas already covered in the films, failing to enrich the films or justifying its existence alongside them. Despite the strong performances of Mari Yamamoto and Wyatt Russell, and outstanding visuals of all the monsters in the series, the first eight episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters are rendered an enjoyable but forgettable entry in the MonsterVerse by failing to provide audiences with something different from what they have already seen in the films without the excitement of the monster battles.