TV Review: ‘’Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’

Kurt Russell in 'Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,' premiering November 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Kurt Russell in ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,’ premiering November 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Launching on Apple TV+ on Friday November 17th with two episodes (and a new episode arriving weekly after that for eight weeks) ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ expands the “MonsterVerse” that kicked off with 2014’s ‘Godzilla’ and has continued through movies such as ‘Kong: Skull Island’ (2017) and the most recent example, 2021’s ‘Godzilla Vs. Kong’.

And while those were produced as a collaboration between Warner Bros. and Legendary, the latter has now partnered with Apple’s streaming service to deliver more stories set in the same universe (albeit without most of the characters).

You might wonder how a TV series can pull off the sort of giant (pun intended) action as the movies, and while the show naturally has to be on a smaller scale, it still has the hefty budget of Apple to create some effective scenes of giant beasts.

What works about ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’?

'Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,' coming soon to Apple TV+.

‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,’ coming soon to Apple TV+.

With much more connective tissue to the cinematic “Monsterverse” than you might expect (it kicks off, for example, with a cameo from ‘Kong: Skull Island’s Bill Randa, played by the movie’s John Goodman), ‘Monarch’ treads a careful path between trying to replicate what worked in the movies –– because let’s be honest, they have been very changeable in quality –– and forging its own identity.

Focusing on a handful of characters whose lives have all been impacted by the Titans in different ways was a smart move, because it allows for a lot of drama between some compelling human beings trying to figure out a way forward. One storyline follows Anna Sawai’s Cate Randa, who discovers that her recently-deceased father had a whole other life and family in Tokyo, including half-brother Kentaro (Ren Watabe). That sets them on a collision course with Monarch in the modern day (or at least 2015).

The real highlight, however (as you might be able to guess) is the canny casting of Kurt and Wyatt Russell playing different ages of the same character, in this case Lee Shaw. We first meet the man back in the 1950s, where he’s involved in the effective birth of Monarch as an organization alongside a younger Randa (here played by Anders Holm) who is working with (and eventually married to) fellow scientist Keiko (Mari Yamamoto).

Wyatt Russell, Mari Yamamoto and Anders Holm in 'Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,' premiering November 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

(L to R) Wyatt Russell, Mari Yamamoto and Anders Holm in ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,’ premiering November 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

The two actors do a fantastic job of making you believe this is the same man (not too tough given the familiar resemblance), sharing tics and actions and giving Shaw some real depth.

Kurt Russell brings a convincing world-weariness and spark to the role of the older version, who is essentially imprisoned in a retirement home run by Monarch. It’s not long before he’s out and helping the likes of Cate on their investigation, though.

And when called upon to deliver on the monster spectacle, the show doesn’t hold back, flashing back to the Godzilla clash in San Francisco in ‘Godzilla’ and further back to humanity’s first encounter with the giant reptile.

But it’s not just the OG Titan who has their moment here; ‘Monarch’ is loaded down with plenty of different, new creatures, including one in the snowy wastes of the Arctic.

Related Article: Director and Producer Matt Shakman Talks ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’

‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’: Script and Direction

The 'Monarch: Legacy of Monsters' production team.

The ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ production team. Photo: Apple TV+.

Created by TV veteran Chris Black (‘Severance’, ‘Mad Men’) and comic book writer Matt Fraction (Marvel comics’ ‘Hawkeye’), ‘Monarch’ has both highs and lows when it comes to its creation.

Some sequences, such as an impressive moment where Shaw, Randa and Keiko investigate a disused nuclear facility swarming with creatures, or Cate’s experiences in the subway monster incursion shelter in Tokyo.

There’s a real feeling of comprehensive world building here, expanding on what has been created for the movies in interesting fashion.

Not every character works as well as Shaw or the others –– filling out the supporting cast are a mixture of tropey types, some of whom do receive a little more exploration and the main story of Cate and Kentaro sometimes trips over the line into melodrama early on. And there are times (albeit few of them) when the effects or production design ambition outstrips the show’s capabilities.

‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’: Final Thoughts

Kurt Russell in 'Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,' premiering November 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Kurt Russell in ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,’ premiering November 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

There was a big risk involved in trying to extend the “MonsterVerse” on TV screens, but with Apple’s considerable budgetary backing and some great casting choices, ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ works more than it doesn’t.

Though the selling point might be the combined power of the Russell father and son and some of the monster moments, ‘Monarch’ also does the work to fill in the gaps between, meaning that it’s worth watching even when a giant creature isn’t on screen or we’re not watching a Russell do their thing.

And the mystery element (fueled by what we already know from the movies) also works, even if the odd clue here and there feels like ideas that have been brought to screens before.

‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ receives 8 out of 10 stars.

Anna Sawai in 'Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,' premiering November 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Anna Sawai in ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,’ premiering November 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

What’s the story of ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’?

Following the thunderous battle between Godzilla and the Titans that leveled San Francisco and the shocking revelation that monsters are real, ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ tracks two siblings following in their father’s footsteps to uncover their family’s connection to the secretive organization known as Monarch.

Clues lead them into the world of monsters and ultimately down the rabbit hole to Army officer Lee Shaw (played by Kurt Russell and son Wyatt Russell across two different time periods), taking place in the 1950s and half a century later where Monarch is threatened by what Shaw knows.

The dramatic saga — spanning three generations — reveals buried secrets and the ways that epic, earth-shattering events can reverberate through our lives.

Who else is in ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’?

In addition to the Russells, the series’ cast includes Anna Sawai, Kiersey Clemons, Ren Watabe, Mari Yamamoto, Anders Holm, Joe Tippett and Elisa Lasowski.

Mantleclaw in 'Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,' premiering November 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Mantleclaw in ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,’ premiering November 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Movies Similar to ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’:

Buy ‘King Kong’ Movies on Amazon

Buy ‘Godzilla’ Movies on Amazon

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