TV Show ReviewsJosh Reviews Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Josh Reviews Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is a TV show spin-off of Legacy’s interconnected “Monsterverse” movies. The show tells two parallel stories: in the 1950s, we follow scientists Bill Randa and Keiko Miura, along with Colonel Leland Shaw, as they investigate monsters across the globe, taking the first steps towards the foundation of Monarch (which is like the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the “Monsterverse”).  Simultaneously, in 2015, we follow three young people — Cate, Kentaro, and May — as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives following the havoc wreaked by Godzilla in the 2014 Godzilla film, and discover their family connections to Monarch.

I never expected to watch this show, let alone to enjoy it as much as I did!  I liked Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla film, and I was even more of a fan of as 2017’s Kong: Skull Island.  But I wasn’t crazy about either Godzilla: King of the Monsters or Godzilla vs. Kong.  I rolled my eyes a little at the idea of a TV spin-off.  But I was intrigued by the cool hook of casting the father-son combo of Kurt and Wyatt Russell to play the same character, Lee Shaw, in different decades.  That’s an awesome idea!  And after the first few episodes aired, I’d heard good things about the show, so I decided to give it a try.

To my surprise, I quite enjoyed this show!  It was way, way better than I ever expected!  The show looked great, with several movie-quality sequences of monster mayhem.  Most importantly, the show did what the recent movies have failed to do, which is give us an array of interesting characters that I actually cared about.  Wow, who knew that the recipe to making me enjoy one of these new “Monsterverse” stories was actually so simple!

The show kicks off with a bang, with two terrific episodes written by Chris Black (a writer whose work I have enjoyed ever since his writing for Star Trek: Enterprise back in the day) and directed by WandaVision‘s Matt Shakman.  (The series was overseen by Mr. Black along with top-tier comic-book author Matt Fraction, whose terrific work was adapted for the excellent and under-loved Disney+ Hawkeye series.)  Those two episodes were fantastic, and they hooked me on the show.  The series never quite again achieves the high of those first two episodes.  (And actually, it dips a bit in the middle of the season, when they briefly abandon the structure of parallel 2015 and 1950’s stories, instead giving us Lost-style flashbacks to the hidden pasts of the 2015 kids that I didn’t find nearly as interesting as I think the show wanted me to.)  But I really enjoyed watching this ten-episode season.  It zips along at a rapid pace, and it kept me hooked throughout.  I’d love to see more!

I loved the way the series dances between the rainbows of the continuity of the “Monsterverse” feature films.  For example, the 2014 Godzilla film established that the 1954 Bikini Atoll nuclear test was actually a secret attempt to destroy Godzilla, something which this show explores in-depth in the 1950’s-set storyline.  Meanwhile, the 2015 storyline, which is set between the 2014 Godzilla film and the 2019 sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, connects the dots between those two films, exploring, for example, how Monarch changed from being a secret agency in Godzilla to one that was known to the public by the time of King of the Monsters.  The character of Bill Randa in the show, played by Anders Holm, is actually a younger version of John Goodman’s character from Kong: Skull Island (and Mr. Goodman returned for one fun scene in the pilot episode to help connect those dots!).  The show also explores the roots of the evil Apex company, and shows us the origins of their (dumb) plan to construct a Mecha-Godzilla (as seen in Godzilla vs. Kong).  I was impressed by how the show took what seemed to be discontinuities (such as how the monsters were called Mutos in Godzilla but Titans in King of the Monsters) or disparate story threads and wove them together in a way that actually made sense.  (I was reminded of all the work Dave Filoni has done over the years to take dumb or poorly executed ideas from the Star Wars prequels and make them cool.)  

My favorite example of this from the show is how they handled the portals that the monsters travel through to traverse the globe.  The films, particularly Godzilla vs. Kong, leaned into a “Hollow Earth” idea that I found silly.  But this show takes that idea and makes it both cooler and more plausible to me, suggesting that perhaps the vast, weird realm of monsters we saw in Godzilla vs. Kong wasn’t existing in the center of our planet (a scientific impossibility that bothered me, even though I knew I was watching movies about battling giant monsters) and instead suggested that perhaps the portals were connections to some entirely different realm or universe.  (OK, that’s also scientifically impossible, I know!!  But it sits better with me than the silly Hollow Earth idea.)

The cast of the show was strong, led by the phenomenal father-son duo of Kurt and Wyatt Russell.  Kurt Russell (The Thing, Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, Overboard, Backdraft, Death Proof, The Hateful Eight, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, and so many more great movies) is a cinematic god, and it’s so much fun to see him as a lead character in this “Monsterverse” TV show!!  Mr. Russell still has every bit of his chops and charisma.  He’s able to play the role seriously while also making it a whole heck of a lot of fun to watch this character on this monster-hunting adventure.  I really enjoyed Wyatt Russell’s work in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and he’s terrific here as the younger version of his dad’s character, Lee.  These two provide strong anchors to both major timelines in which the show’s story unfolds.

Mari Yamamoto is terrific as Keiko, the brilliant, brave scientist of Japanese descent who is one of the first people to get wise to the existence of the monsters back in the 1950’s.  I loved this character, and I appreciated the time the show expends exploring the challenges facing Keiko as both a woman and someone with Japanese heritage in the 1950’s.  (Small SPOILER here: I felt the show makes one big mistake with her character, which is to show us her ultimate fate right in the opening episode, in which she does something horror-movie-character stupid that I don’t believe someone as smart as Keiko would actually do.  My annoyance at that storytelling choice stuck with me throughout the season, until the show wisely fixed that before the end.)  Anders Holm does strong work as Bill Randa.  I’m not sure I ever felt that I really bought him as a young version of John Goodman’s character from Skull Island — the two characters seem very different — but I enjoyed the character that Mr. Holm created.  I liked the way the show positioned him as a sort of middle ground between the viewpoints of Keiko and Lee.  I really enjoyed the dynamic of those three characters together: Lee, Bill, and Keiko.  They really brought the show to life.  The 1950’s sequences were my favorite parts of the show.

But I also enjoyed the 2015 stuff!  Centering on kids was a risky choice, but here again, they cast strong actors and they did a solid job exploring each of their characters.  I was particularly taken by Anna Sawai (who I now keep seeing in the trailers for the upcoming remake of Shogun!) as Cate Randa (Bill and Keiko’s granddaughter).  Cate is a schoolteacher who is still emotionally traumatized by her experiences during Godzilla’s rampage in San Francisco (from the 2014 Godzilla film).  As the show opens, she’s shocked to discover that her father had a secret, second life — not only was he an employee of Monarch, but he also had a second wife and son in Japan!  This connects Cate to Kentaro (Mari Yamamoto), who she discovers is her step-brother.  Kentaro at first wants nothing to do with Cate, but soon finds himself swept up on this adventure with her.  I liked the dynamic between Cate and Kentaro.  The third member of their trio is the hacker May, played by Kiersey Clemons (Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Transparent, Angie Tribeca, and she played Iris West in the Snyder Cut of Justice League and The Flash).  I didn’t love the secret background story the show gave May, but I really enjoyed Ms. Clemons’ performance.  She’s naturalistic and compelling.

Also featured on the show are Joe Tippett (Mare of Easttown) as nerdy and good-hearted Monarch employee Tim; Elisa Lasowski as ass-kicking Monarch agent Duvall (who is revealed to have a family connection to a character from 2014’s Godzilla), and Mirelly Taylor as Monarch’s tough director Natalia Verdugo.

The show was understandably strategic in when and how it gave us glimpses of the big monsters — this is a TV show with a not unlimited budget, after all — but I was satisfied with the choices they made.  When we did see the monsters, they were cool!  Godzilla himself got featured in several exciting sequences, and we also got to see some fun new monsters.  (I particularly liked the weird and scary-looking beast the gang encountered in Alaska.)  And I was happy to see a cameo appearance of another famous monster at the end of the season finale!

Overall, I appreciated the season’s tight plotting and the way all the pieces fell nicely into place by the end.  (Their solution to how Kurt Russell’s character, Lee Shaw, could look so fit at his advanced years in 2015 was predictable, but the best possible way to justify the casting of Mr. Russell, which was more than worth it!  I was also not surprised that the show found a way to take Lee off the board by the end of the finale.  Even if the show is renewed for a second season, I suspect they weren’t sure if they’d be able to get Kurt Russell back.  So that was predictable, but at the same time, I felt Lee’s ending also worked well for the character.  It also leaves the door open a crack that the character could return if they wanted him too, which I appreciated.)  The show occasionally fell victim to Lost-style silliness of characters not bothering to explain things to one another, and I wish by the end of the season I’d better understood just what Kate and Kentaro’s father Hiroshi Randa was up to.

But on the whole, I enjoyed and was satisfied by the season’s storytelling.  I thought this show was very well-made.  I’m impressed!  I would be here for a second season if one gets made!

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