Thursday, November 16, 2023

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, on Apple TV+

The agents of Monarch, the super-secret kaiju-response agency, are the world’s worst Men in Black. In their defense, it is hard to keep a Godzilla rampage under wraps. Now that the kaiju is out of the bag, the agency is internally debating its role post-G-Day (as seen in the 2014 American-produced Godzilla). Two step-siblings stumble across the agency right when the kaiju are stirring in co-creators Chris Black & Matt Fraction’s Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, which premieres tomorrow on Apple TV+.

Technically, Godzilla levelled greater destruction on San Francisco than the current mayor and governor have so far, but give them time. Cate Randa barely survived G-Day, but her elementary school kids were not so fortunate. Although still traumatized, she agrees to visit Japan to attend to her recently deceased father’s affairs. However, instead of an empty commuter flat, she finds a second family, including the adult-aged (but not necessarily adult-behaving) Kentaro Randa.

Obviously, it is a super awkward first meeting. Nevertheless, she and her step-brother agree to clear out his office together, where they find a cache of secret Monarch files, which they decrypt with the help of Rentaro’s resentful not-quite ex, May. That trove of documents leads them to retired Col. Leland Shaw, who was there when Monarch was founded, along with their grandparents, Keiko and Bill Randa.

In flashbacks, we see young Shaw and the Randas (who aren’t the Randas yet) chasing after radioactive anomalies that turns out to be kaiju trails. Their research prompts the miliary to create what becomes Monarch. Even back then, Shaw was not always on the same page as his superiors. That is particularly true when the Randa step-siblings break him out of his maximum-security retirement home.

According to the timeline, post-G-Day Shaw would have to be in his 90’s, but Kurt Russell certainly does not look that old. Somewhat cleverly, Black, Fraction, and their co-writers make a regular bit out of characters telling him, dude, you can’t really be that old. Regardless, the paring of Russell and his son Wyatt as the 2010’s and 1950’s is not just a stunt. It is a genius stroke of casting. Obviously, the older Russell can grin and growl his way through any action scene, but the real news is how good Wyatt Russell is as the young Lieutenant Shaw.

Legacy of Monsters
shifts so frequently between timelines, some viewers might experience whiplash. Based on the first eight (out of ten) episodes provided for review, it is always easy to distinguish the respective eras, but they are not equally compelling. In addition to Russell the younger, Mari Yamamoto and Anders Holm are convincingly smart and conscientious as the Randa grandparents, thereby giving the 1950’s the clear advantage.

In contrast, the Randa grandkids and the mysterious May are abrasively whiny and annoying. It would be more pleasant to whether a kaiju attack than sit next to any of the three on a transcontinental flight. Aside from old man Russell and old man Godzilla, the most interesting character in the post-G-Day timeline is Tim, a geeky Monarch analyst seeking redemption in the field. Joe Tippett’s performance initially delivers laughs, but evolves in interesting ways.

Godzilla and the other assorted kaiju look great on the small screen. There is a good dose of shock in awe in each episode, but
Legacy of Monsters has a much more human scale than the Monsterverse films it is connected to.

Frankly, the quality of writing throughout
Legacy is far superior to the underwhelming Godzilla vs. Kong or the smug but shallow Vietnam allegory that fatally hobbled Kong: Skull Island. The first eight episodes of Legacy are more consistently entertaining than either film. Recommended with a good deal of enthusiasm for kaiju fans. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters starts streaming tomorrow (11/17) on Apple TV+.