With four movies and two television series under its belt, Legendary’s MonsterVerse is nearly as big as Godzilla himself. For the most part, the movies have been hits. Both audiences and critics have praised the big-screen mayhem created by two of the world’s most famous kaiju. Not without criticism, even slam-bam action can’t entirely make up for what the storylines lack. 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a prime example of this. Godzilla’s true opponent wasn’t King Ghidorah; it was weak dialogue and an incoherent plot. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters trailer teased a change to this prerogative but instead stepped right in the giant footsteps of its predecessors.
Created by Chris Black and comic book writer Matt Fraction, the Apple TV series takes play after 2014’s Godzilla. In many ways, it functions as a Monarch origin story. However, the majority of the narrative takes place in 2015. San Fransico G-Day survivor Cate (Anna Sawai) uncovers a web of secrets related to her presumed-dead father while traveling to Tokyo. Not only does he have connections to Monarch, but he also has a second family.
Emotionally, there is a lot to juggle here. Cate’s trauma after the G-Day attack and the rocky relationship with her half-brother, Kentaro (Ren Watabe), are both recurring plot points handled with mixed levels of success. When tech-genius and ex-pat May (Kiersey Clemons) gets thrown into the mix, dynamics become even more complicated. There’s something off about the trio’s chemistry. Character development feels accomplished with a checklist in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters rather than any real thought. And when flashbacks introduce a new set of characters, returning to the endless search for Cate and Kentaro’s father becomes tiresome.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters Works Best in Flashbacks
Flashbacks to 1950 follow Cate and Kentaro’s grandmother, Keiko (Mari Yamamoto), Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell), and Bill Randa (Anders Holm). Together, they’re arguably the more engaging trio when compared to 2015’s rag-tag adventurers. Yamamoto excels as Keiko, a doctor forced to contend with the prejudice of being a Japanese woman in a male-dominated field at a time when America’s relationship with Japan was poor, to say the least. Randa plays the conspiracy-leaning cryptozoologist to her no-nonsense science. It’s a dynamic ripped straight from The X-Files, although it doesn’t come close to reaching Scully and Mulder’s level of depth. The final component of the messy love triangle is Lee Shaw, the military lieutenant initially assigned to escort Keiko, who makes ditching her in the woods his first order of business.
It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s compelling enough. Early looks at Monarch offer insightful social commentary about warfare and how bigger problems spark the creation of bigger (and more dangerous) weapons. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters might have benefited from staying in this time period. Instead, multiple episodes go by without flashbacks, leaving Lee Shaw and Bill Randa’s older counterparts to act as connective tissue.
While John Goodman’s Bill Randa is gone almost as quickly as he appears, audiences get to spend time with Kurt Russell’s surprisingly spry rendition of 90-year-old Lee. Russell delivers the expected reliable performance, even if his character feels a bit like an Indiana Jones rip-off at times. Having his son play the younger version of Lee is a choice the series clearly delights in. Side-by-side photos and projection overlays don’t let audiences forget that, yes, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters nailed the father-son duo.
Too Much Telling, Not Enough Showing
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ worst habit? Telling audiences who they should like without showing why. May, especially, falls victim to random people declaring, “I like you.” This sentiment is a poor substitute for actual character development. In fact, May is consistently rude to almost everyone she meets. As the techy hacker on the run, one is to assume that rudeness stems from distrust. Unfortunately, that concept primarily relies on indulging stereotypes as opposed to actual storytelling.
The frequent, harsh cuts only add to this problem of telling, not showing. It elicits a feeling of “we didn’t know how to get to this point, so we’ll let you fill in the blanks.” One of the most glaring moments of this occurs during what is otherwise an intense monster encounter. While squaring off against a formidable Titan, our 2015 protagonists couldn’t be in a worse situation. Yet, after a quick fade to black, they are safe and relatively sound without explaining how. It undercuts the drama. It stifles the tension. And, unfortunately, it’s a repeated problem.
Monsters Aren’t Given Enough Attention
With giant monsters rising and wreaking havoc, it only makes sense human drama would be an outcome. In recent years, 2016’s Shin Godzilla did this best by spotlighting the true devastation that is bickering and bureaucracy. The MonsterVerse hasn’t been as successful on this front, especially in its Godzilla outings. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters makes a valiant effort to put its people front and center, only to hamper them with weak dialogue and nonsensical character choices. On the other hand, the monsters themselves are intriguing. Let’s be real; what really attracts people to monster movies are the monsters. Monarch’s CGI artists didn’t pull any punches, and Godzilla looks as fearsome as ever.
Spectacle gets five stars. The production value is high, and that alone is enough to suck in viewers. The real issue: there aren’t enough monsters. More importantly, we are to assume Titans reside somewhat peacefully on Earth until some poor sucker happens to come across them. It’s not quite enough to knock off a star, but it circles back to the messy writing. Parallels to humans infringing on nature is an intriguing theme that’s never given enough attention to play out. Instead, the series seems intent on telling audiences stuff they already know from Godzilla: King of Monsters and Godzilla vs. Kong.
That’s the issue of sticking a series in the middle of an already-established franchise. It doesn’t build on the mythology. It just retreads plot points. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters doesn’t ask any new questions, and it certainly doesn’t provide any clear answers. It’s doubtful hardcore Godzilla fans will find anything groundbreaking in this series. General audiences might fare better. Right now, the upcoming Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire seems like the better bet for lore nerds. If not, there’s always Godzilla Minus One.
The first two episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters are now available on Apple TV+