Godzilla movies are wonderful. There, I said it. Are they all “good?” Maybe not. But they’re definitely at their best in one of two situations: either dripping with metaphor, a la 1945’s Godzilla or 2016’s Shin Godzilla, or with giant monsters indiscriminately beating the hell out of each other, a la 1974’s Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, or 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
The Legendary Monsterverse, which started with 2014’s Godzilla, has been more successful with the latter of these two modes, taking the franchise in new, silly directions – like the Earth being hollow – which is to say there is room to add some depth to the franchise. Luckily, Apple TV+‘s new series, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, seeks to do precisely that. Opening in the 1970s during the events of Kong: Skull Island, John Goodman’s character, Bill Randa, records a desperate last message and hurls a bag into the sea. Fishermen recover that bag and it quickly becomes the MacGuffin everyone is after for the first part of the season.
Taking place in both the recent and not-so-recent past, Legacy of Monsters explores the origins and intent of Monarch, the secret agency introduced in 2014’s Godzilla that has become the Monsterverse’s central antagonist. In 2015, the series follows Bill Randa’s granddaughter Cate (Anna Sawai) as she heads to Japan to investigate her father’s disappearance. There, she meets Kentaro (Ren Watabe), a half-brother she never knew she had, and his estranged girlfriend, May (Kiersey Clemons).
Drawn almost immediately into the secret agency’s plans, they end up on a quest to find Lee Shaw (Kurt Russell), the military man who helped found Monarch. They end up on a trip around the world that sees them face off against not only Monarch but local agencies and – of course – some giant monsters. Concurrently, we are treated to a storyline set in the 1950s in which a younger Bill Randa (Anders Holm) works with scientist Keiko (Mari Yamamoto) and a young Lee Shaw (Kurt Russell’s real-life son Wyatt) as they discover titans exist and form an agency to track and study them: Monarch.
It’s a standard setup, but the show executes it incredibly well. Both timelines jump around to illuminate the characters’ feelings and motivations, giving each member of the ensemble moments to shine. Cate and Kentaro’s story is fascinating, each of them grappling with their father Hiroshi’s disappearance with difficulty for vastly different reasons, and it’s a pleasure to watch them find common ground.
Sawai, in particular, whose backstory is closely intertwined with Godzilla’s fight against the MUTOs in 2014 San Francisco, has some complex scenes to work through. She’s never not believably traumatised or relatably angry. Kiersey Clemons is also great as May, a character that could be a bog-standard tech girl but is instead infused with life and nuance via performance.
Holm and Yamamoto do good work as the idealistic scientists at the formation of Monarch, but it’s Wyatt and Kurt Russell who are the standouts in the show. Shaw is, in both time frames, a pragmatist and a realist, but the application of that as it pertains to the two stories makes perfect sense. The two actors look and sound so alike that it almost feels like cheating. Kurt especially steals every scene he’s in while somehow not taking the focus off the younger trio.
And what of the Titans? Interestingly, the show isn’t really about the Titans per se, so they don’t show up quite as much as you might anticipate. However, when they do, they show up like the forces of nature they are. There are a few new monsters we are introduced to and, naturally, Godzilla shows up a few times, including one moment that literally gave this writer goosebumps. Legendary and Apple have put a lot of money and care into this production, and it shows. Between the performances, the monsters, and the writing, Apple has another hit on their hands for fans and non-fans of the Monsterverse alike.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters debuts on Apple TV+ with two episodes on Friday, November 17. New episodes drop every Friday.