* The review is based on the first five episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.
Monsters and mayhem don’t equal mindless entertainment and while it can be difficult to look at the drama revolving around a giant lizard with atomic breath or an enormous ape that wreaks havoc, Apple TV’s Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is making a change by focusing on human stories that takes place beyond mindless destruction.
The 10-episode series is the sixth instalment in the current MonsterVerse franchise, and the second television series following Netflix’s animated Skull Island series, bringing a tale around state and family secrets, as well as the monsters that roam our Earth.
In this live-action series, viewers are introduced to two groups of people. The first follows Cate (Anna Sawai), Kentaro (Ren Watabe), May (Kiersey Clemons) and present-day Lee Shaw (Kurt Russell), while the second circles around Keiko (Mari Yamamoto), Bill (Anders Holm) and a young Shaw (Wyatt Russell) back in the 1970s. Yes, you read that right – the older Shaw is played by Kurt Russell, and his younger self is played by Russell’s real-life son, Wyatt. Both are great actors in their own right, and with the family resemblance, it’s not hard to imagine watching the father and son duo play the same character across the decades.
The first, modern group explores a world post-Godzilla’s attacks in San Francisco and Japan, and how a family is being ripped apart and later brought together in the unlikeliest of ways through the super secretive organisation, Monarch. The second group focuses on how Monarch came about and the discovery of Godzilla, as well as other monsters, and naturally, both groups serve different purposes in the story.
Viewers who love monsters and action would prefer the second group’s arc, while viewers who enjoy drama would align with the first. Personally, we enjoy both equally as they provide a balance that makes Monarch: Legacy of Monster action-packed and worthy of emotional investment.
Seeing how these groups exist in different timelines, Monarch: Legacy of Monster flips back and forth between the past and the present ever so frequently throughout one episode. A title card is used to inform viewers which year it is and where the characters are located each time the story flips so viewers will not be confused. After a few episodes, viewers will be able to tell the two storylines apart so the indicators become redundant. Regardless, it is still helpful to have.
If you’re one of those with limited knowledge of Godzilla, and how it’s tied to 2021’s Godzilla vs Kong, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is wonderful in connecting the dots with both the creature and the overall Monsterverse. Likewise, viewers who are particularly fond and passionate about monsters will appreciate that the series gives ample screentime to monsters old and new such as Rodan, Mothra, Mother Longlegs and more.
An episode runs for an average of 40 to 50 minutes, but it definitely feels much shorter. This is likely because there are two concurrent stories evolving within the same episode. Each arc doesn’t dwell on for too long and is constantly moving forward with new discoveries and revelations. Although we’re only five episodes in, we are anticipating that both arcs will converge to a big finale in the remaining five episodes.
Frankly speaking, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is perhaps what fans want out of Netflix’s The Witcher, a show that tackles similar topics of monsters and aims for a non-linear structure. That one stumbled a bit in its storytelling, but studios looking to do the same can benefit from learning how Monarch: Legacy of Monsters operates and replicates a similar approach.
Aside from having interesting human characters, two engaging plots and great pacing, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters has incredible CGI. Titans and monsters look good and realistic. The worldbuilding, especially of an advanced Japan with measures in place to protect itself from another Godzilla attack, and the aftermath of San Francisco, look and feel believable too.
In all, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is a much-needed addition to ground the universe into something that can be taken seriously when it is put up against other universes out there like Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter, Alien and many others. As for new viewers, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is definitely the right place to start and is a worthy watch if monsters are a topic of interest. Who knows, you might even become a fan by the end of it.