Kurt and Wyatt Russell lead an impressive ensemble cast in this frustratingly uneven monster of a TV show. Here’s our review of Monarch: Legacy Of Monsters.
Episodes watched: 8 out of 10
Since Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film Godzilla brought the giant lizard back to the big screen, we’ve had almost an overabundance of MonsterVerse stuff. Godzilla had its own sequel in the shape of King Of The Monsters, which pitted the nuclear-powered monster against other Titans, and Godzilla also faced King Kong himself in 2021’s Godzilla Vs. Kong. The duo are set to fight again in next year’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.
The main chunk of AppleTV+’s Monarch: Legacy Of Monsters is set somewhere between Godzilla and Godzilla: King Of The Monsters. Our protagonist, Cate (played by Anna Sawai) suffers from PTSD from Godzilla’s attack on San Francisco years earlier. She frequently relives the moment where Godzilla stomped through the bridge she was on with a busload of school kids. You can guess how that played out.
Cate is sent on a strange, dangerous journey after she discovers a whole other family living in her late father’s flat in Japan. Together with her new brother Kentaro (Ren Watanabe), Cate uncovers the terrible secrets of Monarch, the evil corporation at the heart of all things Titan.
The action often also flashes back to the 1950s where Bill Randa (Anders Holm) and Cate’s grandmother Keiko (Mari Yamamoto) and army escort Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell as a young man, Kurt Russell as the older version) actively look for monsters. Shaw even notes that the US government has given them a blank cheque to find more Titans. So, the question quickly becomes, why are we even bothering with the modern day stuff when the action in the 50s is so much more compelling?
Monarch: The Legacy Of Monsters struggles immensely to make both halves of its narrative interesting. In the past, there’s more Godzilla and more monster action. A scene in an abandoned, washed-up boat is particularly thrilling as is the opening sequence which lays out a lot of motives for characters in the modern day.
Yet, there’s still not enough monsters or, indeed, Godzilla. Credit where credit is due: when the big lizard does appear, he looks phenomenal. Clearly, the entire budget has gone into the Titans, which works well, until you realise it comes at the cost of other scenes. Almost every episode of Monarch includes at least one ugly green screen sequence where characters speak in front of a digital background. These scenes look almost unfinished and as a whole, it makes Monarch look sloppy and poor.
The show, like most of AppleTV+’s projects, has been cast handsomely. Father and son duo, Wyatt and Kurt, have buckets of fun playing the same character, even if Lee Shaw, along with most of the characters, is blandly written. Kiersey Clemons is memorable as Kentaro’s mysterious old girlfriend and Mari Yamamoto plays well against the more established Russell and Holm in the flashbacks. Creator Chris Black asks us to care about Cate and Kentaro’s search for their father, who may not be dead after all, but an awful lot of Monarch seems to depend on the audience’s good faith in a TV show that promises to bring Godzilla back to their screens.
Monarch is infinitely better when it focuses on Keiko, Bill and Lee’s search for monsters in the 1950s, but the action slows down considerably when we get to the modern day. Fans and critics have for years been complaining that the human elements in these stories never work particularly well, and while Monarch certainly manages to make its human stories a little more compelling, I still ended up wanting more beasts. Monarch: The Legacy Of Monsters is constantly intriguing, but never thoroughly addictive.
Monarch: The Legacy Of Monsters premieres two episodes on 17th November, followed by weekly episodes.