Kurt and Wyatt Russell team up (kinda) in Godzilla spinoff series of awe-inspiring scope and scale
Godzilla treads lightly on this decades-spanning epic that focuses on the monster-hunting agency Monarch’s heavier footprint. Pairing glorious mayhem with a human dimension, the father-and-son Russells in particular are dynamite in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, writes Stephen A Russell.
What’s not to love about John Goodman battling a giant crab on a cragged clifftop lashed by roiling sea? It remains to be seen if the 1976-set barnstorming cold open to Apple TV+’s Godzilla-inspired spin-off show Monarch: Legacy of Monsters leads to further adventures for his Kong: Skull Island monster hunter, Bill Randa. He hasn’t popped up again in the first five of ten episodes made available to reviewers, but much like a nuclear-engorged crustacean claw’s grip, his cameo is a cracking way to grab our attention.
Faced with a snappy end, Bill’s forced to chuck top secret (thankfully waterproof-wrapped) files from the vaults of clandestine Kaiju-monitoring agency Monarch into the ocean. This sets in motion a decades (and continents) spanning romp of outsized proportions when those files wash up on a fishing trawler scouring the Sea of Japan almost 30 years later. It’s a pulse point on the radar that connects all sorts of dots in this sprawling ensemble piece.
Kiwi actor Anna Sawai sets the ball rolling as Cate, a traumatised survivor of Godzilla’s devastating assault on San Francisco back in Gareth Edwards’ 2014 movie. She arrives in a now heavily-armoured Tokyo to try and figure out what happened to her missing, presumed dead father. A former schoolteacher with a messy love life, her scarred flashbacks allow new perspectives on the fall of San Fran, still in ghostly ruins and sealed off by the military, though stubborn folks like Cate’s mum cling on to their homes.
Cate witnessed the death of the kids in her care when the Golden Gate Bridge went down, taking their yellow school bus with it, and she’s in desperate need of something to hold onto. None of which prepares her for an unexpected connection made in Tokyo when she finds charismatic newcomer Ren Watabe’s Kentaro, an emerging artist and the half-brother she never knew she had, living with his mum in her dad’s apartment. Together, they discover those missing files stashed in their father’s safe, setting them on a globe-hopping voyage tracing his last known footsteps, with an obligatory computer whizz, May, in tow. There’s fun to be had in this third wheel, played by The Flash star Kiersey Clemons, being Kentaro’s cranky ex.
They’re a great team-up, with Sawai and Watabe particularly sparky, but the real fun unfolds in the 1950s flashbacks. This timeline, playing out in the shadow of WWII, pays due respect to the atomic panic of Ishirō Honda’s 1954 OG Gojira movie. We meet cocky American soldier Lee Shaw, played with suitable swagger by Wyatt Russell. A stroke of casting genius, we also meet Lee in the contemporary timeline, now played with equally abundant magnetism by Russell’s real-life dad and enduring legend Kurt. But why does a man in his nineties look a couple of decades younger? That’s just one of many mysteries unfurling in this leisurely-paced but nevertheless exhilarating show.
Back in the ’50s, Lee’s paired with scientist Keiko, depicted by Pachinko star Mari Yamamoto. She’s investigating unusual readings sparked by the Atom bomb tests. A consummate professional, she’s having none of his sexist assumptions when he initially refuses to believe she’s the doctor he’s been tasked with escorting. Pretty soon his eyes are opened as to her capabilities when she takes the wheel of their jeep. They also cross paths with an enthusiastic cryptozoologist by the name of Bill (ringing any bells?). As played by Anders Holm, he does a grand job in the role with no Goodman-spawned real-life son to step in.
When the show’s second trio comes face-to-face with the enormous “destroyer of worlds” progeny of the bomb in both Kazakhstan and the Philippines, the seeds of Monarch are sowed. Flash forward to now, and the shady agents of Monarch aren’t happy with the young guns teaming up with adult Lee or the risk that creates for their closely guarded secrets in a world that’s been irreparably transformed by the reveal of big beasties Godzilla, Kong and co.
Co-created by Eisner Award-winning comic book wunderkind Matt Fraction and Severance scribe Chris Black, Monarch grandly expands the MonsterVerse, achieving a far more connected feel that welcomes viewers’ patience as they explore a grand tapestry. The location work does a grand job of moving us around the globe, even if most of the show is shot in Canada, and the CGI is far more impressive than your average Marvel movie. Looking and feeling expensive, the scope and scale are awe-inspiring, aided by Leopold Ross’ epic score and swoonsome cinematography.
Wisely doling out the big bads/possible humanity’s saviours in restrained doses, it’s all the more magnificent when they do show up, allowing room for the humans that offer the viewer a real-world anchor amidst the glorious mayhem. The Russells in particular are dynamite. We can only hope the showrunners throw in time travel so father and son can fight side-by-side. Anything goes in this nuclear-powered fantasy, after all.