Legendary’s and Toho’s MonsterVerse aren’t regulated to movies anymore. For a franchise rapidly stitched together as this, it’s done a better job elaborating a coexisting monster and human World than other blockbusters *coughs* [Jurassic] franchises *cough* [World] in recent memory. Titans came out of the woodwork and destroyed cities, and the Monarch was there to either take pictures of the destruction they caused or orchestrate the battles themselves. Easy as pie.
While the movies all follow distinctive classic monster movie formula archetypes, the latest entry/first live-action series in the Monsterverse franchise, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, surprisingly demonstrates that Legendary can do what audiences criticize them for day one: tell a compelling human narrative within the Titan world.
The Monarch Legacy of Monsters Review
Set shortly after the events of Godzilla’s destruction of San Francisco but before he took on Ghidorah and Rodan, an Asian-American schoolteacher named Cate (Anna Sawai) treks to Japan to clean out her late dad’s (Takehiro Hira) house. When she gets to his apartment, she finds a similarly aged Kentaro (Ren Watabe) and his mom, whom she never met, residing there. Instantly, they learn that their father was doing a little Hannah Montana-ing, leading a double life with two families without either one knowing. Both in a spiraling wind of despair, betrayal, shock, etc., the estranged siblings go through his files to see what other secrets he holds.
Somehow, there was a second cover-up tying them together, for they learn that they have a special connection to the history of the Monarch organization, which their father was involved in. In later terms, they are the Monarch’s Legacy. A globe-trotting adventure follows the siblings, Kentaro’s tech-savvy ex-May (Kiersey Clemons) and an ex-soldier, Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell in flashbacks, and Kurt Russell in present-day).
Ever so often, the show would deviate to an expansive trek to the 50s, when Lee Shaw was young, under Monarch’s thumb, and Kurt Russell looked like his son Wyatt. In an attempt at bridging Godzilla events with Skull Island stuff better than the films did, its time-spanning B-plot regarding young Shaw, as a militant bodyguard to a scientist Keiko (Mari Yamamoto), and conspiracy-theorist Bill Randa (Anders Holm, and John Goodman as older), peeks into Shaw’s character with humanity.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters sobers up from the loose, campy tone of its film counterparts and tackles something somberly and serious with its premise and the World it takes place in. The MonsterVerse flicks always emphasize how much destruction Godzilla, Kong, and whatever Titan causes the city but never hones in on how the devastating aftermath of those events would affect a family, let alone a survivor. Showrunner and co-developer Chris Black, co-developer Matt Fraction, and their writers use the medium to expand the emotionally unexplored scope within the Titan’s realm through the siblings and their checkered lineage.
The show thoroughly works in its episodic structure, focusing on one character’s background and the tribulations they face currently on their adventure, weaving in flaws on traits to their nature and the limits when Titan-related stuff is in their midst. Every character gets spotlight treatment, and there’s a delicate balance in texturing these people as human rather than caricatures without veering heavily into melodrama.
Though the series takes far too much time for plotting and distinctive character traits, by a few episodes in, the newfound tone bears freshness to the franchise unlike ever before. Godzilla attacks might as well be terrorist attacks with the way it’s in-universe travesties, G-Day. There’s an outstanding balance in building up the mystery of the Monarch and its history, along with the people who have operated under them over the centuries. The long-lost sibling tale is the story’s greatest strength as the writers render these people with dimensions and souls as big as the Titans.
The season’s narrative plays like a spy espionage adventure with the occasional titan appearance. When new and old faces emerge, there’s no way not to get giddy over them in their big-scale glory. It’s just about the right amount of monster stuff to hold you over before the next film, Godzilla x Kong: A New Empire, the following year.
The series still adheres to trappings they still can’t wash themselves clean from, like comic-relief characters who are more annoying than they are helpful to over saccharine moments shared between the 20-something ensemble. Yet, its fresh take is good and something I hope the movies consider taking. Or at least have some of the showwriters in the movie’s room to contribute to tone control in the script departments. Either way, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is the best Godzilla-related entry from the Legendary MonsterVerse franchise yet.