Godzilla and Kong spinoff show Monarch Legacy of Monsters hits Apple TV Plus with a double dose of Russell and monsters galore. But does it have a stronger bite than its big-screen brothers?
Kurt Russell and Godzilla in a TV show about giant monsters? With a far from modest budget for bringing those to life? And Wyatt Russell plays a younger version of his father’s character?
This alone meant I went into Monarch Legacy of Monsters excited for the fact so many personal boxes were being ticked, but this is Legendary’s MonsterVerse, an often surface-level examination of the great Toho Kaiju movies of past and present. With more time on the impact of monsters on humanity and on building human characters who you actually remember five seconds after you see them, Monarch Legacy of Monsters has a better chance to add something to the MonsterVerse, and perhaps retroactively put a little more meat on the movies’ monster bones.
Framing the series as a decades-long conspiracy to keep monsters hidden from the public until Godzilla’s 2014 rampage against the Mutos is one way to do it. The series quickly establishes its connections to the movies, with John Goodman returning to do a cameo of his Kong: Skull Island character, Bill Randa, as he encounters a previously unseen Titan on the island. Randa does appear again, but in his youth, portrayed by Anders Holm. There’s a lot of that.
It’s one of two quick bites of monster action to settle us into the more character-driven story. There’s a lot of time-jumping, but two key timelines matter. The years leading up to Monarch’s creation and those in the aftermath of the 2014 attacks. 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 Cate and Kentaro (Anna Sawai and Ren Watabe) 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 (Wyatt and Kurt Russell), taking place in the 1950s and half a century later where Monarch is threatened by what Shaw knows. The saga — spanning three generations — reveals buried secrets and how epic, earth-shattering events can reverberate through our lives.
Cate and Kentaro are technically the story’s heart as they pull at the many threads of their father’s past. Cate especially is a conduit for moving the story along in the present whilst it subsequently unearths snippets of the past. Anna Sawai does well in the role, offering steel and vulnerability when it matters.
Through Cate, we get to see how the world has reacted to the existence of monsters at ground level in a way that wasn’t previously explored. Alterations to public spaces to allow for shelter from monster attacks, people chime in with their batshit theories on what’s really going on (a taxi driver amusingly claims the whole thing was a hoax done with CGI).
There’s even a smartly done moment where we’re shown the procedure for a Titan warning system. It builds the dread, panic, and anticipation of something catastrophic being imminent, and gets much more time to breathe than the snapshots of such things we saw in the MonsterVerse films.
I wish there had been more of this side of humanity’s reaction to the Titans. It’s used well as building blocks in the opening episodes, but gets primarily brushed aside by the Monarch story the deeper we get, which isn’t too much of an issue. I came here for Monarch shenanigans, and that’s what we get, but those early glimpses of life for regular people keep things grounded in a world of growing absurdity.
Still, the Monarch conspiracy storyline gives us a double dose of Russell as Wyatt and Kurt enter the fray as Shaw. There’s something quite magical in how Wyatt captures the sarcastic surliness of his father’s most notable acting roles. It obviously helps being related, but there are moments where I almost forgot it wasn’t a de-aged Kurt Russell in the 1950s segments, but his son pulling off his mannerisms and facial expressions.
But old man Shaw is undeniably the fun part. It’s great to see Kurt Russell getting as much screen time as he does here, and he’s an entertaining whirlwind of B-Movie charm in a blockbuster environment.
His prickly banter with Cate helps give Sawai’s character an extra dimension. This series has some rickety dialogue with exposition-heavy monologues and ”you didn’t need to say that out loud” moments. Some are in keeping with the nature of the beast, but the present-day parts threaten to be the veggies to the flashbacks’ meat and potatoes—something you must tolerate in order to get to the good stuff.
Shaw’s introduction into the present-day sections gives everything a bit of extra flavor, and for a while at least, both timelines are in sync as we race towards deeper, darker secrets at the heart of Monarch, and, of course, more monsters.
Understandably, the show spreads its monster action out over the course of the series. It’s a big-budget show, but it would never be stupid enough to lean heavily on the most expensive aspect of it. Those who felt frustrated by Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla and its cutaways just as the action got hot will perhaps feel a bit of deja-vu in places, but one of the things that film did so well was make its human cast feel minuscule in comparison to its monstrous entities. That sense of scale is here, too, and the balance of show and tell is inarguably stronger than King of Monsters or Godzilla Vs. Kong.
Monarch Legacy of Monsters is right in the sweet spot. It’s spectacle and drama that is probably the closest we’ve gotten to the likes of the original Godzilla and 2016’s superb reboot Shin Godzilla. It’s not the same kind of animal, and it doesn’t end in the most satisfying way (although that’s somewhat understandable), but it bulks up the MonsterVerse and makes the best use of a talented cast anything associated with it has to date. It’s crazy to think of all the great talent in the movies that didn’t get much more than scraps compared to this.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is a strong addition to the MonsterVerse, and a solid start for wider adventures in it.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7.5/10 equates to ”Good”. A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is streaming on Apple TV Plus now.