Review of “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” – the decision to cast Kurt Russell was an incredible stroke of genius.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is a television series that features kaiju, enormous creatures that have caused destruction on the big screen and have been financially successful, though not always well-received by critics, since the release of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film Godzilla, which revived the iconic monster. Just like how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has multiple shows such as WandaVision, Jessica Jones, Loki, Ms Marvel, and She-Hulk, it only makes sense for the towering creatures from Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse to also have a chance at conquering the small screen. And thus, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters was created.
The 10-episode show follows two timelines, each centered around a group of young characters who are brought together by a well-cast stunt. One timeline is set in 2015, a year after Godzilla’s destruction of San Francisco, which still remains in ruins and temporary housing. In this timeline, the world is coming to terms with the existence of giant lizards. We are introduced to one of the main characters, Cate (played by Anna Sawai from Pachinko and Giri/Haji), a teacher in Tokyo who was present on the Golden Gate Bridge during Godzilla’s final attack the year before. Tokyo now has measures in place for decontamination of international visitors (in case the monsters are caused by parasites), clearly marked escape routes, evacuation procedures, drills, and public service announcements playing in the background. In addition to its symbolic significance as a representation of nuclear disasters, capitalist greed, Cold War fears, and climate change, Godzilla now also represents the violence within humanity and the desire for a drastic change to disrupt reality.
Cate is touring an apartment in Tokyo that belonged to her deceased father, a fact she only learned after his passing. She soon discovers that her father had a second family, of which she was unaware. Cate and her half-brother, Kentaro (played by Ren Watabe), decide to investigate their father further. Despite being a workaholic who was often absent from both families, it is unclear why he kept them and served as a convenient plot device for the investigation. As they dig deeper, they uncover his ties to a covert group named Monarch. In their pursuit for answers, they enlist the help of Kentaro’s ex-girlfriend May, a brilliant and rebellious hacker, to decipher a collection of cassette tapes found in their father’s office, which can only be decoded by someone familiar with outdated technology.
Let’s return to the 1950s, where our trio from the alternate timeline is made up of army lieutenant Lee Shaw (played by Wyatt Russell) and two cryptozoologists he is protecting, Keiko (played by Mari Yamamoto) and Bill Randa (played by Anders Holm). They are exploring the Manila jungle in search of the source of radiation and a possible monster. These three will later become the founders of Monarch. But what is Monarch exactly? One character explains it as being similar to the CIA, but for Godzilla. Another way to describe it is as a version of Shield for the Monsterverse. However, it is not entirely clear what their current role is. They seem to have gone into hiding, but it is not clear whether they are working for the greater good or for their own gain. This should be clarified sooner in the available episodes for review.
However, the past is filled with excitement – reminiscent of Indiana Jones adventures – as well as the uncovering of a nursery containing squishy glowing eggs that will hatch into terrifying baby creatures with pincers. There are also scenes of oilskin bags being tossed into the sea. Additionally, there is Shaw’s unrequited love for Keiko, who is solely focused on Bill and her work with a Geiger counter and collecting samples of monsters.
Unfortunately, the current situation is not enjoyable. The show’s attempt to avoid the typical flaws of monster films by focusing more on the human characters has not been successful. Rather than adding depth or complexity to the characters, it has only given them more screen time, which does not compensate for the lack of kaiju action.
However, it does feature Kurt Russell, who plays Wyatt’s father. They bear a strong resemblance, as seen in a fadeout between a photo of one and the other. Kurt portrays Lieutenant Shaw in the present day, and his classic movie star charm remains intact. His entrance breathes new life into the modern scenes, as he delivers his lines with great energy. Despite any lingering doubts about the story or the pacing, with its jumps between eras and locations, inclusion of kaiju, and abundance of myth, legend, and intellectual property, Russell Sr. certainly gives it his all.