For the past several years, Legendary Pictures has been attempting to make their Monsterverse cinematic universe a thing. With four movies released over the course of 9 years, it’s less of a cinematic universe and more of a traditional movie franchise, but all that is (theoretically) about to change with their first TV series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.
As someone who isn’t exactly as well versed in Godzilla lore as I should be, I worried heading into this panel that most of the events of the series would go over my head. I don’t recall much from the Legendary films and even then, most of what I remember had less to do with Godzilla himself and more about the focus on the human cast. Plus when you factor in that I remember absolutely nothing about the humans in any of those films, that’s a fairly notable problem. If you’re someone who connected with the drama of the squishy humans, then I can safely say that you’ll find a lot to love with Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. I should know, since while at NYCC this year, I was treated to the first episode of the upcoming series and it was full of nothing but human drama.
The first episode was split between two different time periods. The first era was in the mid-1950s, where we follow a team of scientists in Kazakhstan as they trace radioactive readings on something that is near what appears to be an abandoned factory. We then take a look at the present in the aftermath of Godzilla’s rampage in 2014, where a young woman named Cate is trying to tie up her dead father’s affairs in Japan. However, she quickly realizes that he’s been leading a double life and has a secret family there, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg since he has some unknown connection to Monarch, the global paramilitary organization attempting to suppress Godzilla and the other Titans.
While there were absolutely no cast members at the panel due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, most of the creative team was present in order to explain their vision for the series. The general consensus that the crew stressed was that if you were expecting to see an epic monster movie like the previous entries in this franchise every episode, that’s just not sustainable. While Monarch does appear to have a fairly large budget, this isn’t a feature film and can’t rely on spectacle all the time. If each of the 10 episodes in this first season just had Godzilla stomping around and destroying things, audiences would get bored of it quickly. And I would tend to agree, though seeing only a single scene of the big guy in this premiere was a bit disappointing as someone who loves seeing widespread carnage and I figured that there would at least be something in the premiere to satiate audiences.
Instead, Monarch decides to focus on the aftereffects of Godzilla and the Titans’ impact on humanity. In Japan, regular drills are conducted that mimic how schools conduct monthly school shooter tests that come across as just another facet of everyday life. It normalizes what should not be normal whatsoever. Conspiracy theories are tossed out about the monsters, like a cab driver remarking that the events of the first Godzilla in San Francisco were all CG. But most notably, we see Cate’s PTSD from when she was a victim of Godzilla’s rampage and lost a school bus of children to the beast. They’re interesting angles to take that should hopefully alleviate the audience’s desire to see monsters beat the crap out of each other.
It was stressed that this is meant to be more of a character-driven story, which does have its positives and negatives. The team behind Monarch said they wanted to create characters you want to know about and become invested in because of it. From the premiere, those seeds are not only planted due to the secrets Cate’s father has and his double life in Japan but also how the two time periods connect in a way that I won’t spoil here. It’s a solid foundation, though I won’t lie about the fact that I’m not 100% sold on what I’ve seen.
I saw this panel with a good friend of mine who is a HUGE Godzilla fan and he was pleased with how different of an experience this was compared to the dozens of Godzilla movies he’s seen before. And I admit, there’s a lot of potential with the show. The locations are varied thanks to a desire to make this a global adventure, as is the inspired idea to have Kurt Russell and his son Wyatt Russell play the same character, albeit separated by decades, but none of it is landing for me as I think it should. The main theme of this show is legacy, and it’s obvious to see that from the generational focus as well as the continued approach to represent Godzilla as a metaphor for some kind of disaster, whether it be nuclear armageddon or global warming. But the pacing was too slow and drawn out for most of it to land. I worry that the show won’t be able to sustain itself over the 10-episode season. Then again, if this series does attempt to capture some of that big-screen monster action, then those slower bits may be worth it. I’ll watch the first two episodes since it is at least competently made, but I’m not convinced this will be the entry that elevates the Monsterverse.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters Will stream on Apple TV+ on November 17th. The first two episodes will premiere that day while all future episodes will stream weekly.