Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, streaming on Apple TV+, feels like a return to a time before the Marvel Multiverse School Of Telling Stories On Screen.
This column was originally published as part of our newsletter The Daily Show on January 30, 2024. Subscribe here. (We're awesome about not spamming your inbox!)
THE DAY the movies died can be dated to the 1st of May, 2008. This marked the worldwide release of Marvel’s Iron Man. The first movie in this multiverse itself wasn’t bad. In fact, I’d argue, it was actually a movie. It had a plot. It had personalities. It had pizazz. And well, Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man had more charisma in his little finger than the rest of the 32 released and 11 yet-to-be released films do, combined. (Okay, I’ve got a soft spot for the Thor and Guardians of Galaxy set; they aren’t good films per se but achieve brief cinematic moments through their soundtracks and ability to stir sentiment.)
It seems foolhardy to step into this multi-part, multi-format style franchise after all of the audience fatigue with this mode of marketing. But the Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse doesn’t have the baggage or bouquets of the Marvel Universe. Instead, since 2014, there have been four Godzilla films — none of them worth a mention besides their special effects — and an animated Netflix series. And therefore, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters streaming on Apple TV feels like a return to a before the Marvel multiverse school of telling stories on screen. It stars the 72-year-old Kurt Russell in a television series after four decades, playing a two-hander with his son Wyatt Russell. Kurt plays Lee Shaw, an army officer, who chases titans — the term within the MonsterVerse for the Godzilla and its planet-destroying peers — for an organisation called Monarch in the show’s present, in 2015. Wyatt plays the younger Shaw during the 1950s.
In Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, half-siblings Cate Randa (Anna Sawai) and Kentaro Randa (Ren Watanabe) try to get to the bottom of their missing father Hiroshi’s connection to Monarch, the covert organisation hunting down Godzilla and its kin in 2015, one year after the re-emergence of Godzilla, this prehistoric reptilian monster. Parallely, we move to the 1950s with Bill Randa (Anders Holm) and Keiko Miura (Mari Yamamoto), two cryptozoologists who were part of the early days at Monarch. Lee Shaw, a close ally to the Randa family moves between both of these time periods.
It feels like an odd admission to make in this age of high quality special effects in cinema, but it feels sweet to see technology actually being employed to tell a simple, solid story rather than remain at the level of spectacle alone. It feels like a throwback to the good old days of movie-making where it showed man journeying through jungles learning about the world, the demons in it, and battling the ones within himself along the way. And yes, at times, it will feel slow but allow yourself to ease into it, don’t let these manically paced Marvel movies stop you from digging your heels in.
The parallel timelines are shown equal attention, giving the audiences peaks and valleys in the visual storytelling of this series. These switches also enable the storytelling to open the doors for intriguing episodic close-calls. And while Kurt and Wyatt never share a scene through the 10 episodes, yet they are able to echo each other’s performances in an eerie manner: turning into mirror images of the other without losing their individual depth. This thoughtful choice in casting reads better than the CGI choices of the other bigger movie franchises.
Watching this series reminded me of my recent experience of watching Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny with my 20-year-old cousins. I walked out of the theatre thinking, a good movie after a long time. Meanwhile, my three cousins constantly complained that the movie had too much talking; the fight scenes weren’t fast enough and there weren’t as many sequences; and that there weren’t enough special effects. All of their critiques were the precise reasons I liked the film. Similarly, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters takes its time and there isn’t always a pay-off, but the scene after will be superb. It’s just like a friend who tells long-winded stories — if nothing, they’re entertaining while telling it.