Chris Connor reviews the first two episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters….
Beginning in 2014 with Godzilla through to its most recent entry, 2021’s Godzilla vs Kong, the MonsterVerse franchise has now set its sights on the small screen with Apple TV+’s Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. The series fills in some of the blanks for the franchise, taking place both in the aftermath of the events in San Francisco in Godzilla and in the 1950s and 70s, linked to Kong: Skull Island, and helps to connect the disparate elements of the franchise, giving the people within it more of a focus, whereas the clear highlight in the films has been of course the Kaiju action.
The first two episodes quickly establish the timeframes for the series, opening with John Goodman’s Bill Randa from Skull Island in the early 1970s, showing him pursued by some creatures. We then spend the rest of our opening two episodes cutting between Godzilla’s events and the 1950s. It quickly becomes clear that the two timelines are clearly connected, and we begin to excavate how the past impacts the present with Wyatt Russell’s Lee Shaw and Anders Holm’s younger Randa investigating events, showing us some of Monarch’s earliest dealings with Kaiju.
Anna Sawai’s Cate Randa, a survivor of the Godzilla attack on San Francisco, has travelled to Japan to uncover what may have happened to her father but finds a series of mysteries surrounding a family she didn’t know existed and her father’s affiliation to Monarch. Cate is clearly scarred by the events and we intercut with flashbacks to what happened to her, giving it more meaning than in some of the previous films and a real sense of horror. Cate and her brother Kentaro are driven to locate Kurt Russell’s older Shaw, as they seek to uncover what happened to their father and how it all connects to Monarch and events from over 50 years ago.
This being a Kong and Godzilla-related series we get glimpses at a variety of creatures including Godzilla, showing us the events of the 2014 film from the perspective of Cate. These sequences are impressively staged and infrequent enough not to derail the main narrative, giving the series a sense of scale and showcasing impressive effects. It also helps to expand the lore of the universe and show us events and creatures we haven’t seen on the big screen.
The opening two episodes are directed by WandaVision, Succession and Fargo’s Matt Shakman, who for the most part navigates between the two timelines with ease and impressively stages the Kaiju action. Where this series so far succeeds more than the films is with the focus on its human leads, as we get a proper sense of personality and purpose for Cate, Lee and co. The mystery surrounding Monarch will no doubt be revealed in time but it makes for gripping viewing and fans of the films will be engrossed.
Viewers don’t require too much knowledge of the films to date so Monarch could also act as an effective entry point into the MonsterVerse. The first two episodes offer plenty of signs of promise for what has been a sometimes up and down franchise, showing it was right to pivot to the small screen.