MONARCH: LEGACY OF MONSTERS (2023)
Aired On: Apple TV+
Release Date: 11/17/23
Action. Adventure. SciFi.
"Set after the battle between Godzilla and the Titans, revealing that monsters are real, follows one family's journey to uncover its buried secrets and a legacy linking them to Monarch."
The new Apple TV+ series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters roars up the backstory Godzilla fans never thought we needed. And maybe we still don’t. But for both hardcore fans and those that might have only seen the amusing-enough Godzilla vs Kong movie (2021), Monarch uses the human-level experience to fill in the gaps of those massive footprints. Monarch: Legacy of Monster is an entertaining endeavor but falls short of being atomic breath-powered must-see TV.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters follows the origins of the eponymous agency through two parallel timelines: the early 1950s and “present day” 2015. This bridge is cleverly gapped by the roguish Army officer Lee Shaw, who captivates the 1950s in the form of Wyatt Russell (Falcon and the Winter Soldier) and in 2015 by his real-life father, the always-suave Kurt (The Hateful Eight, Big Trouble in Little China).
Created by Chris Black (Severance) and Matt Fraction (writer of the acclaimed Hawkeye comic series), the premiere episode opens in the aftermath of “G-Day” – when Godzilla “saved” San Francisco from a kaiju threat in Godzilla (2014). Cate (Anna Sawai) is a scarred survivor of G-Day who travels to Tokyo seeking to close the business of her recently-deceased father (Giri/Haji’s Takehiro Hira). There, Cate discovers that her father hid a secret life from her; one that involved Monarch.
Monarch, of course, being the secret government agency for research and defense of titans, or MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), such as Godzilla and Kong. Think of Monarch as the “Monsterverse” version of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Going with that, the premiere episode is directed by Matt Shakman, who was involved with WandaVision, and completely gives Monarch the polished feel of a Marvel Studios show. One almost expects Shang-Chi or Moon Knight to swing by.
Unfortunately, the King of Monsters himself only makes a cameo – and a flashback at that. The 2015 narrative follows Cate and her half-brother Kentaro (Ren Watabe) as they discover their birthright into Monarch while the 1950s plotline introduces Lee Shaw to scientists/monster hunters Keiko and Bill Randa. The first ep is half secret-agent adventure, half family drama. Both aspects are entertaining but the absence of any true monsters – other than the fun intro spotlighting an equally fun guest star – is sizable. Future episodes do present more titan action but the human adventure clearly takes the stage here.
Legendary Entertainment’s and Warner Bros’ MonsterVerse has had a careful and enjoyable build, which also runs in line with the excitement of those original Marvel movies. Each piece is seemingly built on the other with Monarch: Legacy of Monsters providing a base throughline. For all its gleam, though, Monarch feels like it wants to be more. A yearning to rise up out the depths with its own monstrous intent. But perhaps that is too presumptuous. Perhaps instead Monarch should have had a more tactile and lo-fi feel, like a true Saturday morning Creature Feature. Perhaps more creeps and a bit more earth-bound horror could have made Monarch slightly more noteworthy. Instead this is yet another super-sized spectacle. But admittedly a fun one.