Monarch: Legacy of Monsters Review: A Gripping Drama With Titanic Potential

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is a compelling live-action exploration of Godzilla's MonsterVerse, but it's not without issue.

When it comes to film, no monster is bigger than Godzilla. The behemoth has ruled the kaiju landscape for decades, and Godzilla took back the spotlight in Hollywood nearly a decade ago when the MonsterVerse began. Since then, the franchise has followed the epic highs that come with Godzilla's reign, but there is more to the monstrous IP. This fall, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters will set out to explore the human element behind the titans' rise, and the compelling drama is a title worthy of Godzilla's renown.

Under the watchful eye of Legendary Television, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters unpacks the drama that comes after a kaiju blitz. The show straddles two timelines, as it begins shortly after Godzilla's MUTO showdown in San Francisco from the 2014 film. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters follows a woman named Cate Randa (Anna Sawai) on a mission to settle her dad's affairs, but one of his secrets threatens to upend her whole family. The often-absent workaholic has ties to Monarch, and this history sends Cate and some newfound family on a journey to uncover the truth.

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is incredibly strong when it is exploring its present-day narrative. In fact, it is at its best in these moments. Sawai portrays Cate with a jaded intelligence that pairs well with her traveling cohorts. In particular, the character's bond with Kentaro (Rea Watabe) is nothing short of stellar. The estranged characters unpack all of the problems a legacy brings in the course of Season 1, and this conflict plays out in parallel with Cate's mission.

While Monarch: Legacy of Monsters does have some thrilling titan fights, the show doesn't present itself as a kaiju free-for-all. This sci-fi series is a human drama through and through. Split between grief and uncertainty, each character in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters folds into the MonsterVerse with ease. Kurt Russel's unmatched talent grounds our protagonists, as Cate learns more about herself under the guidance of Russell's Lee Shaw. And, as expected, the same can be said for Wyatt Russell, who plays a young Lee Shaw in the show's flashback sequences.

After all, I did say Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is split between times. The show explores the 1950s when not busy with Cate's present-day adventures, and that is where Wyatt Russell comes in. The star brings a charming authority to Shaw as the soldier finds himself at the forefront of MUTO research. But sadly, Russell is only one of the few highlights found in the show's flashbacks.

Despite its top-notch acting, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters feels rather disjointed. The series swaps between its timelines at will with little, if any, transition. The highs of Cate's gripping mission in Japan don't mesh well with the lows of Shaw's younger days. In fact, many of the flashbacks would have been better suited as simple asides. With so many flashbacks in play, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters loses its focus with ease. Honestly, the show only recovers from these stumbles thanks to its compelling performances.

And of course, what is a MonsterVerse title without monsters? Monarch: Legacy of Monsters does have plenty of titans, but don't expect tons of kaiju throwdowns. Most of the titans introduced in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters are shown in short bursts, and as of Episode 5, none of the monsters have fought with each other. If you are coming into this show expecting a kaiju brawl, you will be disappointed, but the titan scenes we do get are intense, to say the least. 

After watching the first half of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, I confess that I was gripped by its story. In the past, the MonsterVerse has taken criticism for having too much human drama, but Monarch: Legacy of Monsters makes no bones about its story. At its core, this live-action series is about families, legacies, and the uncertainties of the future. These are all the themes Godzilla has embraced for decades. When the world wrestles with Godzilla, each person must wrestle with themselves, and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters makes this clear despite its muddled pacing. If you're eager to visit an unexplored facet of the MonsterVerse, this Apple TV+ original will satisfy your curiosity.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is slated to debut exclusively on Apple TV+ beginning November 17th.