Monarch: Legacy of Monsters brings the Warner Bros. film series. MonsterVerse, recently released Godzilla vs. Kong fame, on the small screen via Apple TV+, with a story shared between the consequences of the 2014s Godzilla reboot and first investigation into giant monsters in the late 1950s. Humans were never the strong point of this franchise, but Monarch does its best to incorporate basic stories into the occasional monster mash.
Opening shot: Grainy aerial footage (including footage of King Kong himself) taken during a trip to Skull Island in 1973 – a trip chronicled in more detail in Kong: Skull Island but revisited for the opening scene of the first episode.
The essential: Monarch is the secret organization that has spent decades tracking the emergence of the Titans, ancient monsters who (we learned in Godzilla vs. Kong) enter our world from the Hollow Earth hidden beneath us. The first episode of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters follows the company’s work related to two different events described in the 2014 Godzilla, featuring two different teams of three. In the late 1950s, a fledgling Monarch team consisting of Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell), Bill Randa (Anders Holm, playing a younger version of John Goodman’s character in Kong: Skull Island), and Keiko (Mari Yamamoto) explore a site of monster activity. In 2015, Cate (Anna Sawai), a survivor of Godzilla’s recent rampage in San Francisco, arrives in Japan to sort out her late father’s affairs and learns a family secret that sends her on her own fact-finding mission, to the sides of his half. -brother Kentaro (Ren Watabe) and his sardonic hacker buddy May (Kiersey Clemons). In later episodes, the 2015 characters cross paths with an older version of Lee – played by none other than Kurt Russell, Wyatt’s real father. These are the two main storylines, but as the season progresses, the series incorporates additional flashbacks. (The second episode’s 1950s storyline, for example, is a years-earlier prequel to what we see happening in the first.)
What shows will this remind you of? Superficially, Monarch likely aims for some of the cultural buzz of Star Wars or Marvel shows attempting to bring big-screen reach to a streaming service. But in some ways, turning the MonsterVerse story into a TV series is reminiscent of a late ’80s Saturday morning cartoon series, or a spinoff comic book series – but in a good way. (In fact, Netflix has already dipped its toes into these waters with its surprisingly strong offering. Skull Island animated series.)
Our opinion : At a time when Marvel and Star Wars may have oversaturated the market with their various spinoffs, sequels, prequels, and footnotes, the MonsterVerse series of American kaiju stories feels like a model of restraint. When the franchise celebrates its tenth anniversary this spring, it will have produced a total of five feature films and two television series, enough to fill out the world it has built around Godzilla and King Kong without making it an overly familiar place to visit. It means that Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, the MonsterVerse’s first live-action TV series, can still wring compelling details out of bits of casual world-building, like the glimpse we get of a Godzilla escape plan for Tokyo, after the introduction of the world to the enormous lizard-like Titan. (“San Francisco was a hoax – they did it with CGI,” a taxi driver informs our protagonist before promoting his podcast.) But these recent films are also known – not quite fairly, but understandably – for having dull human characters overshadowed by a menagerie of gigantic creatures. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters obviously doesn’t have the budget to let Godzilla stomp every episode (total diva), which requires him to develop his humans more thoroughly – more so than the 2014 film, where the cinematic intelligence that hid our boy’ zilla with the ground-level views of its chaos exceeded the liveliness of the real people on that ground.
While the human characters Monarch are not exactly Mad Men-literary creations-wise, they all have a disjointed (and not too pleasant) energy that keeps the non-monstrous action moving. The chronological tangles of the show’s plot may seem overly convoluted for a series that’s mostly about “go from place to place, then every 30 to 60 minutes a fearsome giant monster appears,” but it’s is also the key to the liveliness of the series. Likewise, the visual effects aren’t quite up to the level of the film, but the monster designs, many of which are lifted from the films, contribute to the series’ appeal even without affecting the photorealism (and anyway, the effects work on the small screen is always more impressive than that of films). over many of its expanded universe competitors). In other words, most of the series’ limitations can also serve as virtues, at least if you’re interested enough in the world of Monarch to embark on a world-traveling, timeline-hopping adventure. (It might have been even nicer to follow some Monarch investigators on X-Files-as standalone cases, but that’s not the world we live in.) As for non-essential additional documents, Monarch has a lot of good stuff, in the right balance of world building and monster movie silliness.
Sex and skin: None in the early episodes, unless you count the bare, often scaly skin of various giant creatures.
Starting shot: A member of the 1950s Monarch team slips and falls in a particularly frightening darkness.
Sleeping Star: There are a lot of familiar faces here, but Anna Sawai (who also appeared in the Apple production) Pachinko) anchors the contemporary sections with unadorned gravitas; Mari Yamamoto does the same in certain flashback scenes opposite Holm and young Russell.
Most pilot line: In the opening sequence, John Goodman, playing the older version of Holm’s character (apparently a lot has happened in the 14 years that are supposed to separate them), makes a video for his child in a moment of despair, saying that he hopes that he “I will be able to leave behind some sort of legacy for him.
Our call: Spread it. If you don’t care about the MonsterVerse movies, this series probably won’t change your mind. However, if you like Godzilla, Kong or the various Titans that face them, Monarch This is very fun.
Jesse Hassenger (@rockmarooned) is a writer living in Brooklyn. He is a regular contributor to The AV Club, Polygon, and The Week, among others. He also broadcasts podcasts at www.sportsalcohol.com.