Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, much like Godzilla, is a kaiju of an experience. The new show aims to give the same feel as the current Monster-verse films, offering titan mayhem and even Godzilla himself. Apple TV+ certainly has the money to experiment with such a task, and for the most part, no penny is wasted on the small moments it becomes a monster spectacle. And with the release of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, Apple will ultimately discover whether people come to these movies for the characters or the monsters themselves.
The Apple TV+ series comprises eight episodes and features a decent cast, including Wyatt Russell and Kurt Russell, who play the same character at different times. However, the series is guilty of utilizing story mechanics that have plagued these properties since the mid to late 90s. Simply put, the need for every invasion-style film or show to have a surplus of spinning narratives like Independence Day.
[Warning: early impressions and possibly mild spoilers for this series below!]
The setup and story of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters
The spin-off series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is similar to the movies Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla vs. Kong, as it follows various timelines, characters, and stories happening simultaneously, including those in the past. One of the narratives revolves around an Asian American woman named Cate (played by Anna Sawai), who travels to Japan in search of her father, who has been missing since the events of the 2014 Godzilla. Upon her arrival, she discovers that her father had a secret life and family in Japan, which fuels her curiosity to find more and leads her newly discovered brother Kentaro (played by Ren Watabe) to join her in the search.
In the story, there are two separate plotlines. One involves a family drama, while the other is about three characters searching for past titans. These characters are a scientist named Keiko Muira (played by Mari Yamamoto), a younger William Randa (played by Anders Holm), and Lee Shaw (played by Wyatt Russell) when he was younger. The story shifts between present-day events in 2015 and the 1950s, where Shaw leads two scientists through the Philippines to study peculiar radioisotopes. Keiko tells Shaw that these radiation spikes are probably not caused by a Russian bomb test since they are too uncommon.
Additionally, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters adds a subplot surrounding the characters of Tim (Joe Tippett) and Duvall (Elisa Lasowski) — two members of Monarch hunting down the whereabouts of Cate and Kentaro’s father, A story choice that makes the eight-episode series feel surprisingly crowded.
Godzilla and the other monsters visual effects
A pleasant surprise with Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is the fulfillment of actual monstrous threats in the show. The visual effects do not feel cheap. The moments where the creatures appear have the same expensive aesthetic as they would in Godzilla vs. Kong. One segment has the legendary titan rising from the dirt in a camouflage manner, invoking the same visual awe as the movies. The success of these visuals is because Apple spent around $15 million per episode.
Viewers need to know that these moments are brief because it’s a television show. In a typical film, moviegoers might be treated to a 20-45-minute slugfest between Godzilla threats. Here, they serve as massive cliffhangers to close out each episode with an atom bomb of a finish. The series made this reviewer think of the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In a way, this is what the spin-off series should have been—a continual hunt for Fantastical creatures. But at the same time, it does get bogged down by too many threads.
An unfortunate lack of focus in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters
The series suffers from some of the same issues as Godzilla vs. Kong. In that film, the story was engaging when it centered on Rebecca Hall’s character, Ilene, as she watched over a girl and studied the little girl’s connection to Kong. When the sequel threw in Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, and other aspects from Godzilla: King of the Monsters, one could feel the energy deplete from the story.
The same is true of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. The two competing narratives, Cate and Kentaro, trying to find their father and Lee Shaw’s past, are both narratively interesting on their own. Not to mention, the stories do eventually collide. But having the 1950s story of Shaw, the 2015 story of Shaw, and the Cate and Kentaro story, with an extra subplot surrounding a secretive friend of theirs named May, is too much. The relationships between characters need more room to develop into something meaningful. Streamlining the subplots or trimming one would allow for more character moments and enable the audience to connect with them better.
The proof is in the story of Kurt Russell and Wyatt Russell’s Shaw. The story in the past and present allows for nuance and depth to be explored. Due to this choice, he is one of the few characters not short-changed by the series.
Confusing story decisions
The most confusing decision with Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is the narrative decisions involved with the 1950s story of Keiko, Shaw, and Randa. For some reason, the creatives behind the show decided to throw the viewer at the end of their story in the first episode. And without giving too much away, the episode ends with a tragic defining moment. The rest of the series takes us back to the beginning and shows the audience what led to this moment. Sometimes, this method can work as a writing structure, but upon rewatching, the emotional weight of that first episode is more impactful after spending eight episodes with them. Placing this pivotal scene in the first episode robs the audience of the intended impact of the scene.
The continuity also poses a problem if one thinks too hard about the details. Anders Holm plays William Randa, the same character as John Goodman in Kong: Skull Island. The events in Kong: Skull Island occurred in 1973, and John Goodman is 71. However, in the 1950s portion of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, Randa and Shaw look the same age. In 2015, Kurt Russell, at 72, looks way healthier than Goodman did in the 1973 story.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is an overfed, entertaining beast
This Godzilla spin-off will undoubtedly be a serviceable weekly watch, offering the small bits of spectacle found in the Monster-verse movies. Having reviewed the entire series, this writer would recommend approaching the series from the weekly model instead of waiting to binge the whole series. The episodes have a formulaic beginning and ending that might feel repetitive as a binge stream.
It’s similar to the films in the good ways and the bad. The spectacle is present, and the characters are much better than the ones from any of the sequels. But for season 2, Apple TV+ needs to lower the narrative serving size for this giant kaiju-sized program.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters streams on AppleTV+ beginning this Friday! Are you excited to check it out? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or The Cosmic Circus Discord. For more of our Godzilla coverage, visit the archive!