Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, Apple’s latest MonsterVerse installment, brings a fresh perspective by prioritizing narrative depth over the expected monster mayhem, setting it apart as a noteworthy addition to the Godzilla saga.
While Godzilla and other monsters make regular appearances, the standout feature of this new series surprisingly lies in its human drama. Contrary to the action-packed MonsterVerse films, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters leans towards storytelling ambition, drawing parallels with Apple’s epic drama Pachinko rather than following the traditional monster-centric formula.
Set in the aftermath of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla film, the narrative unfolds in a world on edge after a showdown between Godzilla and deep-sea creatures in San Francisco. Governments worldwide have taken drastic measures to counter potential monster threats, including setting up anti-aircraft guns and implementing evacuation procedures. Amidst tension and conspiracy theories, the story introduces Cate Randa, a young school teacher, on a journey to Japan to unravel the mysterious disappearance of her father, Bill Randa, portrayed by John Goodman in Kong: Skull Island.
While the older Bill Randa only briefly appears in the first episode, the series predominantly explores his younger self, played by Anders Holm in the 1950s. Flashback sequences showcase Bill’s collaboration with Japanese scientist Keiko and army officer Lee Shaw, portrayed by Wyatt Russell. A fun stunt casting choice brings Lee Shaw’s character to life in the present day with Kurt Russell as they join Cate and her newfound half-brother Ken on a grand adventure uncovering their father’s affiliation with Monarch, a secret government agency studying mythical creatures.
Monarch successfully blends a conspiracy thriller with occasional monster cameos, creating a genuinely engaging drama. The series delves into the intertwined family sagas of Cate and Ken, revealing their father’s dual life and his involvement in government activities. The ’50s flashbacks focus on the love triangle involving Cate and Ken’s grandmother Keiko, Bill, and the swashbuckling Lee.
While the family drama takes precedence over government intrigue, the series reaches its peak excitement during Godzilla’s awe-inspiring appearances, accompanied by the iconic sound effects synonymous with the monster’s roars.
Monarch breaks away from the typical television production feel by embracing location filming in diverse settings, from the cityscapes of Tokyo and Seattle to snowy mountains and harsh deserts. This decision adds an atmospheric quality to the show, presenting a grounded, human-level perspective on large-scale drama.
Despite its impressive narrative ambition and a writing team that includes Severance alums, Monarch grapples with occasional bloat, with some episodes standing out more than others. Notably, episode five seamlessly combines character-driven drama with genuine spectacle.
While performances vary, the Russells bring genuine movie star charisma, and Mari Yamamoto stands out as Keiko, generating empathy effortlessly. Monarch avoids the over-the-top tech embraced by newer MonsterVerse movies, aligning more with the grounded tone of Edwards’ first Godzilla film.
For fans of the franchise, Monarch might surprise with its creative choices, yet its character-first approach serves as a compelling incentive for casual viewers to tune in.