Why ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ Director Matt Shakman Isn’t Afraid of Giant Franchises, From Godzilla to ‘Fantastic Four’

Godzilla is stomping onto streaming this week with his first live-action television series on Apple TV+.

“Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” takes place within the MonsterVerse, established by 2014’s “Godzilla” and continued through with “Kong: Skull Island” in 2017, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” in 2019 and “Godzilla vs. Kong” in 2021. But the series smartly shifts focus to Monarch, the mysterious organization that, we learn in the show, has been monitoring these giant creatures since the 1950s.

A pair of half-siblings (Anna Sawai and Ren Watabe) are looking into the disappearance of their father following Godzilla’s arrival on the scene and are drawn into the mystery of Monarch and a shadowy figure who was there for the agency’s formation (played in the present by Kurt Russell and in the past by his real-life son, Wyatt Russell).

Created by Chris Black and Matt Fraction, the first two episodes of the show were directed by Matt Shakman, who directed all of “WandaVision” and has helmed episodes of “Game of Thrones,” “The Boys,” “Succession and “Billions.” TheWrap spoke to Shakman, who also serves as executive producer on “Monarch,” about his love of Godzilla, what it’s like working with these giant intellectual properties and what the vibe of his upcoming “Fantastic Four” movie will be.

What was your relationship with Godzilla before signing on?
Lifelong fan. I watched Godzilla movies with my dad as a kid, and some of my best memories actually of hanging out with my dad are watching Godzilla movies.

Do you have a favorite movie?
I think the first one, and then he bought me — Toho, back in the late ’70s, made a Godzilla toy that its arm would shoot off and you would press a little button on the back of its head and it would come out. It had fire on it. And I had that and I played with that until it broke into pieces.

What was the specific appeal of “Monarch?”
What Chris Black and Matt Fraction created was really exciting. I read the first script and I was pulled in immediately by this idea of legacy, by the multi-generational story that they were planning. And I love the MonsterVerse films, but I did wonder how are you going to translate that into 10 episodes of television. Because television is really about characters that you love and you’re rooting for people. And a monster movie, obviously there are important characters in that, but you’re primarily coming to see Godzilla and King Kong.

But what they had done was to create a wonderful group of characters in different time periods that had rich history and connection. I was rooting for them, I cared about them, and that was what pulled me in ultimately. The idea of being able to tell a MonsterVerse story from a human point of view, really from the ground looking up, because I think that isn’t something that I felt as much in the movies up to this point. You’re much more at altitude with them as they battle each other. And this was much more about what it is like from the human point of view.

Were there any guardrails from Toho in terms of what characters you could or couldn’t use or what you had to stay away from?
Toho is our partner. They’re terrific. They were our hosts when we were shooting in Tokyo. Incredibly lovely, supportive partner. No, I think we were able to build the story, obviously consulting with them, showing them new monsters we were designing, they were reading scripts, and weighing in on cuts, and were involved as any partner would be. But in terms of having to follow any sort of limitations or rules that they had established, it really wasn’t that way. It was more of a pure creative effort. They had notes along the way, and they were great.

But as a lifelong Godzilla fan were you like, “Could Mothra be in this scene?” And they said, “Well …”
Well, there definitely was a desire on our part to use some legacy characters, but also to be able to introduce new ones, and I think that’s a balance that was nicely struck in this first season, to be able to introduce some great new characters to the MonsterVerse, but also to show you some of your faves.

Where did the idea of casting Kurt Russell and Wyatt Russell as the same character come from, and what was it like working with them?
It was an idea that was on the table before I signed on, and it was floated as a possibility, and I was hugely excited about it because I’m a fan of Kurt Russell in the same way that I’m a fan of Godzilla going way back. And the idea of bringing Snake Plissken up against Godzilla felt like it was something that should definitely happen.

One of my first assignments when I had joined the project was to go sit down with Kurt and Wyatt and talk about the possibility of working together on this. And Kurt is a big fan of Godzilla, and he’s always wanted to work with Wyatt, but they’re often offered parts where they’re father and son. I think what really made them interested in this was the idea of being able to play the same character because then it was a joint acting project that they were able to do together.

‘Who is this Lee Shaw character and how do we want to play him? And how do I bring some of my son’s acting style, which is different than mine, into my performance?’ And then for Wyatt to go, ‘How do I bring some of my dad and what he does that’s so different from what I do?’ We’ll meet in the middle and we’ll make something special. And I think as a dad, I can see why that would be incredibly appealing for them. I would love to do things with my daughter creatively. I think that was a draw. And then they responded, of course, to the writing, what Chris and Matt had created, and they were on board, off we went.

Kurt Russell battling monsters in Antarctica? It’s long overdue.
And back on the same glacier that they shot [“The Thing” on].

The show looks like it cost a zillion dollars but is obviously on a TV budget. What was it like capturing that scope on a more limited scale?
Apple has offered great support, but yes, you have to be careful, and I learned a lot working on a “Game of Thrones” episode, which is I think you budget less per episode and more per sequence. You figure out where you can pick up time and shoot. The eight-page day, people talking in a room, you try to do that fast so you can spend more time building a long, complicated scene with stunts and visual effects, and you just work cleverly with your time and with your money. Obviously there’s never enough time, never enough money, but if you figure out where your priorities are, you can usually stretch it and make it work.

Other filmmakers talk about how cumbersome working with IP is. But you’re somebody who embraces it. What is the appeal for you and how do you maneuver it?
I’ve had nothing but great experience working with IP. The chance to make a Godzilla adventure story with Kurt Russell, I’m all in on that. My work with Marvel is the same way. These are comic book characters that I’ve loved since I was a kid, so I would never want to say no to the chance to work with characters and worlds that I love. And then you get to work at a scale which is incredibly exciting. I started playing with my brother with action figures. I played in sandboxes, and now I get to play in a much bigger sandbox. And as a filmmaker, that is incredibly exciting, to know that if you can dream it, you can bring it to life. That’s not something you can do when you’re a kid. That’s why I love doing it.

Christopher McQuarrie always says he goes through the door that is open.
That’s true. It’s what people are making, it’s what people want to see and it’s exciting to be able to do that.

Has there ever been a property that has been brought to you that was too precious, where you thought, ‘I don’t know if I can do this’?
No, I don’t personally have an experience of something that I’ve been approached with that I wouldn’t want to touch. My favorite movie is “The Third Man.” That’s not quite Marvel IP, but if someone said, “Do you want to remake ‘The Third Man?'” I would say no.

What was your approach going to be for “Star Trek?”
I’m not sure where they are in development, and I don’t know how much of the story that I was working on may still be something that they’re working on, so I would hesitate to say anything too specific because [it was] obviously something I felt passionate about. I know J.J. [Abrams] was very excited about it too, so I would imagine a lot of it is still somewhat in play.

Was it still J.J.’s cast?

Did you have a favorite era of “Star Trek?”
I’m a big fan of the original series.

You’re obviously doing “Fantastic Four” next. Have you been able to work during the strike?
Working really hard even during the strikes. Luckily we were able to work on production design, world building, visual effects, all of that stuff, which takes a long time to plan. We’re gearing up for shooting next year. We’re excited. I can’t say too much about casting. There’ll be an announcement at some point, and I will be anxious when that point comes. But it’s a very exciting world to be spending my days in.

You can’t say anything about the plot, but what is the vibe you’re going for?
You brought up “Star Trek,” and they’re very similar, in a way. It’s no surprise they were both created in the ’60s during that time of the space race and JFK optimism and looking to the stars and being able to solve everything if you have the right heart, the right mind and the right technology. And so that’s the spirit that I think I love about the comics for the “Fantastic Four,” and I’m sure that will trickle into the movie.

Do you feel like you’re more set up for success on the movie having done “WandaVision” for Marvel Studios and understanding how the machine works?
It was a great place to work when I made Wanda, and it continues to be a great place to work. It is obviously a producer of giant epic blockbusters, but when you’re inside making something, it feels like a family. It feels like a very small group of people who are making stuff there. And so it’s a great process. I think I feel with this movie, the way I felt with “WandaVision,” which is that everybody’s making the same movie. We’re all pointed in the same direction, which is wonderful, and we’re just figuring out how to do it the best possible way.

If “Monarch” comes back for another year, would you return
Absolutely, if I could. Obviously I’ll be making “Fantastic Four” next year so I don’t know with the timing, but would absolutely love to be here.

“Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” is on Apple TV+ tomorrow.

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