Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse now has its own spinoff series on Apple TV+ with Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, and it’s aiming to capture the hearts of those kaiju fans invested in the production company’s shared cinematic universe. The MonsterVerse fandom has arguably split itself into two camps over the years, with one side more keen on the serious and dramatic Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, while the other gravitates to its more ludicrous fare, Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla vs. Kong.
Monarch is definitely for the former camp, but even if you’re in neither, Apple and Legendary are hoping that you’re enthralled enough by the films’ central scientific organization that you’ll happily sit through an entire series about it as long as you occasionally get to see a titan or two in action. In that way, it reminds me of a little show called Agents of SHIELD, which tried to bring the MCU action over to the small screen but initially struggled to create an engaging narrative because the real excitement was happening in the movies. To Monarch’s credit, it does include a fair amount of (CGI) kaiju action onscreen, it’s just that whenever there isn’t something going “rarrg!”, the story is quite dull.
Hey, some would say that’s a feature, not a bug! Many kaiju films are rammed with somewhat tedious human stories that serve to make the monster’s inevitable appearance even more exciting, but when noting the kind of creative talent behind Monarch, you’d likely hope for something better than what you get here. Eisner Award-winning comic book writer Matt Fraction is listed as co-creator, while WandaVision’s Matt Shakman directs.
Monarch also has a ton of impressive talent in front of the camera. In a simply incredible coup, real life father and son Kurt and Wyatt Russell both star as army officer Lee Shaw, who becomes part of Monarch’s pure(ish) history and rather dubious present. Unfortunately, his story plays out via irritating and often confusing time jumps that prevent you from getting too invested in his character.
Meanwhile, Pachinko’s Anna Sawai is Cate Randa, a former schoolteacher who ends up following Monarch breadcrumbs, and DC’s big screen Iris West, Kiersey Clemons, is a tech-savvy ex-pat drawn into the Monarch mystery by accident. But none of these actors have particularly interesting material to work with, wringing their hands somewhere between soapy family drama and “the monster is attacking” green screen fear. And regrettably, all of their performances are forced under cover of an invasive and grating Leopold Ross score.
You may have noticed that I’ve managed to grumble on about Monarch for a bit without even writing the obligatory paragraph that rewords the synopsis of the show for those who at least want to know what the hell this thing is about, but l put it to you that my reticence is also a feature, not a bug. For real, the plot of this thing is paper thin, despite its globetrotting, decades-spanning aspirations: two young people find out they share a father who has gone missing, and they want to find out what happened to him. It has something to do with Monarch and the kaiju-related business Monarch oversees, so they slowly investigate.
If that sounds like the kind of drama you can see yourself becoming truly invested in, my advice is to stop reading right now, fire up Apple TV+, and get started. Absolutely, enjoy yourself. But if it sounds like a lot of running around nonsense designed to fill up the 98% of screen time where monsters aren’t going “rarrg!”, consider putting Monarch on the “maybe” pile for now, because through each long episode, that stuff sure can drag.
Ultimately, Monarch does make a good companion piece for fans of these Godzilla movies, and it’s certainly a curious exploration for those who want to know more about the MonsterVerse’s most consistently referenced admin company, but if you prefer your kaiju entertainment to be more like a goofy Pacific Rim than a cheerless The Cloverfield Paradox, this show is likely to underwhelm.