It doesn’t have to be the case that a monster movie has great action and truly turgid human drama between the setpieces, but that’s largely been the case for Legendary’s Godzilla reboot, the “Monsterverse.” Sometimes the action being so fun can tip the odds against some truly stupid human beings—see King of the Monsters; and sometimes it can’t—see Godzilla vs. Kong. But Apple TV+’s unlikely spinoff series Monarch might be the first Monsterverse entry that finds a symbiotic balance of both.
Focused on the origins of the titular mysterious organization—which has been chasing giant-sized monsters across the world for decades, even before Godzilla first showed up in the events of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 movie—Legacy of Monsters shines largely on the basis that it has time, unlike its cinematic counterparts. Across the eight episodes made available ahead of release for review, there are both enough hits of some remarkable monster action (director Matt Shakman shows a keen eye for big CG spectacle that was largely constrained in WandaVision, and bodes well for his future return to Marvel with Fantastic Four) and time to flesh out a compelling cast of human characters—to the point that rarely are you left having your mind wander waiting for the next hit of monstrous chases and destruction.
Legacy of Monsters is all the more laudable for striking this compelling balance while also diving itself across two timelines. The show’s primary setting is in 2015, in the midst of recovery efforts surrounding Godzilla’s assault on San Francisco in the 2014 reboot movie. It follows a young woman named Cate Randa (Anna Sawai), who is struggling with both lingering trauma from surviving Godzilla’s attack (which we get to see plenty of—the series is, for the most part, not afraid to show monsters when it can, Godzilla included) and the recent passing of her father. Initially Legacy of Monsters seems like it’s going to focus on the interesting premise of a world slowly changing and adapting to life where creatures like Godzilla exist, but soon enough Cate finds herself travelling to Japan to deal with her father’s estate— finding not only an unknown sibling in Kentaro (Ren Watabe), but a pile of secrets about her dad’s life and his connections to Monarch that lead to the duo teaming up with Kentaro’s former partner May (The Flash’s Kiersey Clemons), alongside a little help from a former Army officer tied to investigating the world’s monsters, Lee Shaw (Kurt Russell).
It’s Shaw himself—anchored in a truly delightful dual performance by Kurt Russell and his son, Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s Wyatt Russell—that connects Monarch to its other subplot, set during the 1950s. Russell the younger plays, well, Young Shaw in this subplot, as he is teamed up with an underappreciated monster researcher, Keiko (Mari Yamamoto) and cryptozoologist Bill Randa (Anders Holm, playing a younger version of John Goodman’s Skull Island character). Together, as they battle various monster sightings in a post-war, post-nuclear world, they set the stage for the foundation of Monarch and lingering ramifications that impact on the 2015 timeline. For the most part, the 1950s material plays up Legacy of Monsters’ action-adventure spectacle more than the contemporary mystery box. But the show gets a lot out of its two timelines, both in terms of mining a lot of fun (it’s very clear that Russell the elder is having a blast, as is Russell the younger in trying to emulate the tics of his father’s performance), but also in leveraging its two eras to contrast and parallel the two protagonist trios, with plenty of compelling character work that, largely unlike the Monsterverse movies, gives all of them clear stakes and investment in the action.
These aren’t just characters that you come to care about—and thus are actually keenly aware of the monstrous threats they face—but ones that all, in different ways, feel like they have connections to the creatures they come across and to the lingering specter of Monarch itself. If anything, it’s actually when the show gets too bogged down in the esoteric lore around its titular organization that it is at its weakest—the throwaway attempts to latch on to what comes down the line in Legacy’s movie series—and most has you wishing for the next little cliffhanger twist or monster setpiece to come around. Legacy of Monsters is the rare entry in this cinematic saga that has you wanting to spend the time needed with its human cast, and it’s their relationships that drive the bulk of the series far more interestingly than the ins-and-outs of Monarch’s establishment ever do.
That’s somehow more of an amazing achievement in a saga that has drawn plenty of high-profile names to its casts over the years—from Bryan Cranston and Charles Dance, to Millie Bobby Brown and Tom Hiddleston, and a plethora of major names in between—and wasted them, than the fact that Legacy of Monsters also manages to throw its splashy budget around to effectively bring its blockbuster monsters to the small screen along the way.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters begins streaming on Apple TV+ today, November 17.
Want more entertainment news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and DC releases, what’s coming to cinemas in Australia this year, and everything streaming this month across all platforms. Check out our dedicated Entertainment tab for more.
The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans
It’s the most popular NBN speed in Australia for a reason. Here are the cheapest plans available.