Friday 1 December 2023

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Godzilla is back on the small screen in a live-action series sans Godzooky on Apple TV+.

After a misty-eyed timey-wimey reunion in Doctor Who, Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, goes on a monster hunt.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Over the past ten years, Legendary Pictures has done a bang-up, stomp-down job of bringing a universe of monsters to a modern audience. They released the Kraken in their 2010 Clash of the Titans remake, made giants great again in 2013’s Jack the Giant Slayer, and gave us giant robots versus kaiju in the same year’s Pacific Rim.

But it was 2014’s Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards (The Creator, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) that really proved Legendary could do monsters right, leading to a crossover series of titanic proportions that includes Kong: Skull Island and the forthcoming Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, due out in 2024.

With Marvel Studios creating lucrative crossovers on the big and small screen, a Legendary streaming show set in their ‘MonsterVerse’ is an obvious move. But is it a necessary one?

Judging by the first three episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, the answer is no. It’s fun to see Godzilla pop up once or twice, as well as movie big-shots Kurt Russell and John Goodman, but beyond the stars and roars, this is a show based around a shady, military-style organization with ties to the US Army – hardly a unique premise.

The characters are as forgettable as they are likeable, aside from Russell (who plays former U.S. Army colonel Lee Shaw) and his son Wyatt Russell, who plays his dad’s younger self in a nice casting move and is a charming chip off the old block.

The series is a US-Japanese co-production, with original Godzilla herders Toho involved. There are some nice nods to kaiju lore and it would be great to see more characters and creatures from the original movies.

If the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) can dip into its rich history, why can’t the MonsterVerse reintroduce some of Toho’s imaginative creations like the all-singing, all-smiling miniature worshipers of Mothra?

OK, maybe not.

Self-reference can easily become a narrative barrier to audiences, as shown when Monarch relies on familiarity with the new Legendary movies. If you don’t remember everything that happened in those films, there are some flashbacks to help but otherwise, you’re on your own.

Speaking of barriers, the title is hardly a draw. It’s as if Legendary wants to trick non-monster fans into watching before the hapless viewers realize that this is Godzilla’s party and he’s the one throwing the buildings.

The scale of the saga is impressive, as it jumps from the 1950s to the 2010s to the present day and shows what the world would be like with Godzilla disaster shelters and big Japanese signs that probably read, ‘have you seen this behemoth?’.

At their best, the Legendary movies return to the roots of their larger-than-life characters, with sympathetic monsters and richly drawn human beings. A 10-part series provides time for those characters to develop and grow on us, and the Godzilla allegory – the danger of toying with nature – will always be relevant.

While Monarch is a big, scaly bundle of joy for kaiju kids and fans of Kurt Russell (who isn’t?), it definitely needs an extra splash of imagination beyond its cool monsters.

Are you watching Monarch: Legacy of Monsters on Apple TV+? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).

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