It's fair to say in the wake of Godzilla Minus One, the Legendary Monsterverse has come in for more critical scrutiny of late, but I maintain that the films are still a labour of love with an exceptional level of care taken over adapting the Toho monsters to the big screen. Kong and King of the Monsters were both terrific creature features.
Set in 2015, before The King of Monsters, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters follows the organisation and its genesis, from the postwar period and parallels it with the present day incarnation. In an inspired move, Kurt Russell plays the pivotal role of Lee Shaw, with his son Wyatt (who clearly inherited his father's looks) playing his younger self alongside Anders Holm (Workaholics) and Mari Yamamoto as a team of investigators who found Monarch in the wake of Godzilla's first appearance.
It's a terrific cast overall, Kurt Russell's star power adding a great deal of gravitas and likeability to his role as the soldier who takes on Monarch's modern-day Machiavellian approach with a bit of gung-ho bravado. The supporting cast all give excellent performances, and the race is on to find Mari's grandson Hiroshi Randa (Takehiro Hira, also a prolific Hollywood face) the rogue scientist trying to stop the next G-Day event from wiping out more cities.
This single-minded obsession leads us to meeting Randa's children, however this in itself is a complication as it seems the scientist had two families, both mourning his apparent death. When his daughter Cate (Anna Sawai) visits her father's Tokyo apartment, she meets the brother she never knew she had, Kentaro (Ren Watabe) and his ex-girlfriend May (Kiersey Clemens). As the trio uncover the truth about Hiroshi Randa and his ties to Monarch, they're swept up in a global chase to see if he managed to survive, discovering a secret world of conspiracy, hollow Earth theories and, of course, monsters.
The big G makes a number of cameos
One of the major criticisms to be levelled at the Legendary monster films has been the lack of human interest (though I'd argue that's overplayed - Kong in particular had a wonderful cast) and so Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is all about the people. Yes, we see Titans pop up in various episodes, but they're used sparingly as an ever-present but unpredictable danger scattered across the globe. Here, they're very much the backdrop to a more human drama about family and friendship that spans generations. I was genuinely surprised when it clicked who one of the characters was, tying the show to Kong: Skull Island through John Goodman's character (who makes 2 cameos in the show) - it's no spoiler to fans who take note of these things that Anders Holm is playing the younger Bill Randa, who is played by Goodman in the movie. These are wonderful little touches helping to tie everything together.
It's fair to say that the series does have a moderate dip in pacing around the middle as characters are moved from place to place, but thankfully it rallies by the last few episodes with some surprising twists and genuinely moving moments.
The series looks spectacular, from lighting to composition, it's a beautifully directed show. The CGI looks great on the small screen, with the Titans making their presence felt, sometimes attacking but also when they're waking up. The sheer size and power of these creatures is captured magnificently, and the amount of Easter eggs and Monsterverse nods should keep fans coming back for repeat viewings.
Having seen the entire series now, it's remarkable how well everything ties up by the end - I don't want to go into spoilers, but the past does collide with the present in unexpected but gratifying ways, and it's been a pleasure to see the threads coalesce into a coherent and entertaining filler between big movie outings. If you enjoyed the movies but want to know more about the world around the Titans, this is a perfect serving of ground-level human drama influenced by bigger events. The ending leads directly back to the movies, so even if we don't get a season 2, the story continues.