There is a place that time forgot, and that place is Apple TV+; the streaming service has lots of viewers, if you include those on free subscriptions because they’ve bought Apple phones, computers or whatever. But a look at their top twenty films reveals a repertoire of pretty much the same film products as they had last year and the year before. Apple have taken an alternative approach to generating content, favouring quality over quantity, and that’s laudable in itself, but it’s hard to see how that works in a business sense. Paying $200 million for Killers of the Flower Moon to entertain an audience of 25 million paying subscribers worldwide is a cost-heavy exercise; it might be quicker for Apple just to Venmo us the cash and let us pick something to watch ourselves.
Of the various franchises hoping to emulate the now forgotten dominance of the once mighty MCU, Toho’s Monsterverse has stuttered through four popular but forgettable films to date featuring King Kong, Godzilla and various other mutants knows as MUTOS; about 17 different creatures have been previously mentioned. It’s becoming standard issue to fill in the gaps between movies with tv shows exploring the lore for fans, and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters follows that pattern, largely taking place in between 2014’s Godzilla and 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The draw is monster hunter Lee Shaw, playing by Kurt Russell in the 21st century and by his son Wyatt in the 1950’s timeline. That gap suggests that Lee Shaw is very old indeed, but Monarch has all kinds of previously established weirdness to unpack, including a hollow earth; ‘The government burned a hole through the earth all the way to hell ,’ we’re told, which is enough to make you write a stiff letter of complaint to your local elected representative.
The first two episodes of Monarch only contain about four minutes of Kurt Russell, so we fill in time with his backstory in the 1950’s as Shaw investigates a ‘nursery’ of MUTOS with crypto-zoologist Andres Holm, a younger version of John Goodman’s William Randa character from Skull Island, and resourceful scientist Keiko (Mari Yamamoto). Meanwhile in 2015, Cate (Anna Sawai) is recovering from being caught up in Godzilla’s rampage in San Francisco, and travels to Tokyo to investigate the death of her father, only to find out that he had a separate family in Japan, presumably using these hidden tunnels to commune between familial nests. Cate joins forces with Kentaro (Ren Watabe) and spunky US tech-wizard May (Kiersey Clemons) to discover the truth about the mysterious Monarch organisation that always seems to be on the scene after a kaiju attack, a search which leads our intrepid gang to Lee Shaw as the EP2 curtain falls.
Monarch certainly looks as expensive as you might hope; rather than a cheap tv knockoff, there’s clear location shots which indicate a little more effort than the usual green screen dreck. There’s a mega crab vs giant spindly spider showdown within the first few minutes to hook us in, but the central human story isn’t that compelling, and feels like a way of jamming yet more lore into a world already straining with the weight of accumulated back-story. Dialogue like ‘a dragon that leaves a path of fire in the sky…it could be ionising radiation!’ sets up the vague science behind a world of mythological monsters including Bigfoot, and it’s neat seeing a Tokyo with stern warning posters in the underground about what to do in a kaiju attack. A cab driver tells Cate that he has his own podcast and that ‘San Francisco is a hoax created with CGI” which indicates that this alternate history earth has the same issues with conspiracy nuts desperate to make a buck.
Our heroes surmise that all this flim-flammery is ‘a fairy tale to scare away the curious,’ and want to delve deeper, but audiences may be more wary. This is an oddball show that has rampaging giant monsters as a B story, and focuses our attention on a small potatoes narrative about absent fathers and nerdy hackers; the intent seems to be to reverse the dismal human characters in the first four movies, but with neither Russell having much opportunity to shine just yet, it’s hard to engender too much involvement. The best of this rather ordinary bunch of movies was 2021’s Godzilla Vs Kong, largely because it relegated the human stories to background and made the sympathetic monsters their protagonists. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters aims to create a sub-tier below that, but the first two episodes felt all teaser with not much crowd-pleasing, monster-slamming action to report on.