Monarch: Legacy of Monsters stomped onto Apple TV+ on Friday, bringing the biggest star yet to the streaming service: Godzilla.
As a lifetime fan of kaiju films, I’m here to review the first two episodes, and also to remind viewers of MonsterVerse lore brought up in the new series. I even throw in some speculation on what’s coming in later episodes.
Should you watch Monarch: Legacy of Monsters?
When deciding whether to watch Monarch, you should ask yourself whether you liked the 2014 film Godzilla. If you did, then you might like the new Apple TV+ series even more than you did that movie.
This new series is very much a sequel, not just chronologically but also in tone. I rewatched the 2014 film this week to be ready for Monarch, and while the movie includes a giant radioactive lizard going head-to-head with two other kaiju, they were on screen for a minority of the time. The film isn’t really about giant monster fights – it’s about people surviving in a world where giant monster fights occur.
Monarch is the same. It has kaiju, but it’s the people who are the focus. So the success of the series will depend on them, not on Godzilla.
As for me, I’m hooked. The mystery at the heart of the series is fascinating, the script is good, the characters are likable and well-rounded. The episodes are nicely paced and beautifully filmed. The Apple TV+ series includes scenery-crushing monsters, but it offers more than that, too.
In most of these aspects, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is better than the 2014 movie. To me, the film’s non-Godzilla story occasionally dragged. That’s not true for the series.
As Apple TV+ started off with two episodes of Monarch released together, we have a chance to get caught up in the story immediately. And those episodes are available to watch now. They will be followed by one episode every Friday through January 12.
What you might’ve missed in episodes 1 and 2
If you haven’t seen the first episodes of Monarch, go watch them now. The rest of the article is to help you connect the new series to the movies, points out things you might have overlooked, and is chock full of spoilers.
Anyone who saw all the recent movies set in the MonsterVerse needs to keep in mind when watching Monarch that much of the series takes place soon after the original movie from 2014. Most notably, the events of 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters haven’t happened yet, so don’t be confused that characters in the show are trying to discover what you already know.
And actually, the characters don’t have as good a grasp on the events of Godzilla (2014) as we, the audience, do. Confusion about the events that led to the destruction of San Francisco are an important part of the series.
Tokyo residents are terrified that Godzilla will attack their city. The news clearly didn’t get out that Godzilla didn’t attack San Francisco at all – he fought two kaiju to prevent them from laying their eggs in the city, which would have resulted in much of North America being crushed under a hoard of giant insects. Godzilla is the hero, not the villain. But apparently, no one knows that.
Misinformation and confusion in the wake of Godzilla’s ‘attack’ in San Francisco
To me, this is realistic. As moviegoers, we are eyewitnesses to what happened. The script writer for Monarch understands that people living in that world wouldn’t have as clear view of the events. A taxi driver in episode one who doesn’t believe the attack happened at all — it’s all CGI, he says — is an example of how confused the situation would be if the events of the movies were reality.
But even before we get to that, there’s a scene starring John Goodman set during the events of Kong: Skull Island in 1973. This interlude wasn’t actually in the movie; it was created just for the Apple TV+ series. It’s our introduction to a collection of documents that will prove very important in later episodes. (And there’ll be more on the character Goodman is playing in a bit.)
Then we’re introduced to our two different casts of characters for Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. We’re simultaneously following intertwined stories set in the 1950s and 2015 about three generations of a family. The earlier generation is searching for giant monsters. Their grandkids are searching for their father, but surely they’re going to come across some kaiju, too.
One story, 3 generations
The 1950s group includes scientists Dr. Keiko Miura (played by Mari Yamamoto) and Bill Randa (Anders Holm) along with Lee Shaw, who is played by Wyatt Russell, who you might remember from Captain America and the Winter Soldier on Disney+.
Just so there’s no confusion, Dr. Miura doesn’t seem to work for the Monarch organization. There’s actually no mention of the secret group from this time. Though we know it’s around — flashbacks in Godzilla (2014) show Monarch studying Godzilla and other kaiju in the 1950s.
But we know Bill Randa will be heavily involved with Monarch later. He’s played by John Goodman when running the group in 1973 in Kong: Skull Island. And he’s the one who tosses the mystery trove of Monument-related documents into the sea.
When we first meet this group of characters, it’s 1959 and they are looking for the global network of tunnels that will play such a part in King of the Monsters.
Pay attention to a reference to MUTO: Massive Unknown Terrestrial Organisms. That’s a term from the movies. I don’t know why the series and films avoid using the familiar term kaiju. Perhaps it’s because the rival Pacific Rim movies called their giant monsters kaiju.
A surprising family secret
Meanwhile, the 2015 group starts off by discovering that two of them share a father, and that he’s been hiding some major secrets, including that he has two families. This group consists of Cate Randa (Anna Sawai), her half-brother Kentaro Randa (Ren Watabe) and May Olowe-Hewitt (Kiersey Clemons).
Though absent and supposedly dead, the father, Hiroshi Randa, is one of the ties between the generations because he’s somehow been involved with searching for kaiju. But he doesn’t work for the secretive Monarch organization because that would be too simple and easy.
Discovering exactly what his role was will be left to future episodes of the show. I don’t know whether there’ll be time to cover another mystery: how a man clearly utterly obsessed with kaiju had time for two different families on two continents.
Episode one of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters ends with a cliffhanger, with the kids’ grandmother, Dr. Miura, apparently getting devoured by young kaiju bugs. Episode two doesn’t resolve that cliffhanger, as it jumps backward in time several years to cover how Dr. Miura, Bill Randa and Lee Shaw originally met. Clearly, it’s going to be important to keep track of what year events are taking place in this series or you’re going to be confused.
For the group in 2015, the action really starts to take off after a search of their dad’s office in Tokyo turns up the trove of electronic documents John Goodman’s character tossed in the ocean at the beginning of episode one. Just opening these brings the young people to the attention of the Monarch organization. (Remember Monarch? This is a TV show about Monarch. Even if it’s hardly been seen so far.)
Kurt Russell to the rescue
Mysterious minions of Monarch chase Cate Randa, Kentaro Miura and May Olowe-Hewitt around the neon-lit streets of Tokyo trying to take away the documents. Hoping for help, they turn to the 2015 version of Lee Shaw, played by film legend Kurt Russell in this era.
Having Kurt and his son Wyatt play the same character three generations apart could have been just a gimmick, but it actually works very well.
Back in 1952, Dr. Miura, Bill Randa and Lee Shaw end up playing cat and mouse with a kaiju in a U.S. Navy ship that’s mysteriously turned up in the middle of an island in the Philippines, miles from the ocean. This adds to the excitement, and should satisfy anyone who would be disappointed if there’s not at least one kaiju in every episode.
Speculation about future episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters on Apple TV+
Even without having seen episode three of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, I can make some guesses about what’s coming.
First off, although the mysterious father Hiroshi Randa is missing in 2015 and presumed dead, that hasn’t been confirmed. There is a good chance he’s going to show up in some dramatic fashion later in the series. That’s how these things often go.
The Monarch organization is being set up as the villain in this series. But it seems possible to me that at some point the 2015 group will be captured by this organization and discover that — surprise! — it’s run by their grandmother, Dr. Keiko Miura, who’s been in hiding since the 1950s.
That is sheer speculation, of course. Maybe she died at the end of episode one. We don’t known yet.
We will find out more next Friday when the next episode of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is released. I for one am greatly looking forward to it.
In the mean time you can visit monarchunlocked.info. Some of the mystery documents found in Hiroshi Randa’s office can be found here.