'Monarch: Legacy Of Monsters' review: Needs to Titan things up


Godzilla could never resist karaoke night on Monster Island. Photos: Handout

The new series that's meant to expand Legendary Pictures' MonsterVerse – or at least fill in some narrative gaps between 2014's Godzilla and 2019's Godzilla: King Of The Monsters – has proven to be more curiosity than spectacle just before its mid-way point.

Monarch, as we learned in the earlier films, is the US government organisation formed just after World War II to verify the existence of titanic beasts like Godzilla and its frenemies.

Monarch: Legacy Of Monsters starts off intriguingly enough, its initial two episodes well-paced and exciting.

First, we have John Goodman reprising his role of Monarch chief Bill Randa from 2017's Kong: Skull Island in a quick cameo.

The story then splits between the 1950s and 2015, with the character of Lee Shaw (played by Kurt Russell in the "present", his son Wyatt in the past) serving as the common link between time periods.

'They'll never figure out how you turn into John Goodman in just 20 years, while it takes me 60 years to look like Kurt Russell.''They'll never figure out how you turn into John Goodman in just 20 years, while it takes me 60 years to look like Kurt Russell.'

In the 1950s, we see how Army Colonel Shaw, a younger Randa (Anders Holm) and his scientist wife-to-be Keiko (Mari Yamamoto) go about getting Monarch set up with the "blessing" of the US armed forces, as well as their early brushes with Titans.

In 2015, just after Godzilla's battle in San Francisco (from the 2014 film), we follow Bill's granddaughter Cate Randa (Anna Sawai) from there to Tokyo seeking answers after her father Hiroshi disappears.

She finds only more questions when it turns out he had a secret life there – including a second family!

Long rude awakening short, she and her newfound half-brother Kentaro (Ren Watanabe) – with expat hacker May (Kiersey Clemmons) in tow – then seek out Shaw, with Monarch agents hot on their heels.

There's a sharp contrast in character motivations between the time periods. The flashbacks show the lead characters genuinely driven to open up new frontiers of knowledge; but the 21st-century hijinks seem propelled entirely by a need for personal validation among the too-emo-for-their-shirts characters.

'Hold on, you don't look familiar at all – wait, they CGI-ed you into this scene from my earlier movie, didn't they?' 'Hold on, you don't look familiar at all – wait, they CGI-ed you into this scene from my earlier movie, didn't they?'

Not sure if series creators Chris Black and Matt Fraction meant this as a deliberate (and cynical) commentary on present-day self-absorption, but it often gets in the way of getting the viewer invested in unravelling the mystery behind Hiroshi's disappearance.

(For context, I'm writing this after the very hard going of the fourth episode, where the characters' whining and petulance tested the limits of my patience.)

And what of the Titans themselves, notably the Big G? There's just enough monster content to hold our interest, particularly in the flashbacks which fit in nicely with earlier references from the movies and really do flesh out the Monarch backstory.

'Since they won't make ALIEN for another 25 years at least, I'm going in for a closer look.''Since they won't make ALIEN for another 25 years at least, I'm going in for a closer look.'

This is all well and good in the first three episodes, where the balance between kaiju sequences and the concerns of petty mortals is nicely struck. The Titans here truly look awesome, and the show as a whole comes across as spectacular viewing for a streaming series.

But that emo fourth episode in the ice and snow hints at a rapidly-approaching precipice from which Monarch: Legacy Of Monsters needs to veer away.

Consider the rave reviews from critics and fans alike that Toho's Godzilla Minus One is getting, for a film produced at reportedly less than the cost of a single episode of Monarch.

It's all about giving people what they want from a tale about giant monsters and the unfortunate souls in their path, not subjecting them to (seemingly) endless pouting and stomping.

You've only got 10 episodes to convince us, people, so spend them well.


New episodes of Monarch: Legacy Of Monsters arrive on Apple TV+ every Friday.

6.5 10

Summary:

Pacific grim

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