Roush Review: ‘Monarch’s Best Legacy Is Its Monsters

Godzilla — 'Monarch: Legacy of Monsters'
Apple TV+

I’m a pushover for a good, or even bad, Godzilla movie—and don’t get me started on King Kong. (I saw the Broadway musical twice, just for that amazing ape.)

But the last thing this monster-movie maven desires is to dive into yet another franchise’s murky mythology as it were a cog in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And yet here we are in what’s known as the “MonsterVerse,” and indeed, the thrills are genuine when the monsters show up in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, which is mainly set in the wake of Godzilla’s 2014 movie comeback, when the fire-breathing lizard’s battle with the terrifying Titans leveled San Francisco.

“Monarch” is this franchise’s version of S.H.I.E.L.D., I suppose (thankfully with less periods and caps to type), a shadowy X-Files-like organization devoted to tracking the radiation-feeding beasts over the decades. As the series’ title suggests, the story leans into the Monarch of it all, meaning the monsters tend to arrive only at the end of most episodes, five minutes of awe after 40-odd minutes of yawn.

Genre pro Kurt Russell (The Thing) brings vigor and charisma to the role of rogue ex-Army officer Lee Shaw, whose younger self is played (in enjoyable 1950s flashbacks to Monarch’s origins) by his son Wyatt in a nice casting stunt. Young, sheepish Lee’s adventures with earnest crypto-zoologist Bill Randa (Anders Holm as a younger version of the character John Goodman played in Kong: Skull Island) and the fetching scientist Keiko (Mari Yamamoto) at least have momentum. They’re caught in a Catch-22 with military authorities, who will only fund their research if they find new MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), which the brass then insists on destroying before they can be studied.

In the more recent 2015 storyline, the elder Lee Shaw is hampered by having to shepherd two mopey young half-siblings, Cate (Anna Sawai) and Kentaro (Ren Watabe), who meet to each other’s surprise in Tokyo, where “Godzilla Evacuation Route” signs proliferate. (Cate is from San Francisco, with PTSD flashbacks to the horror of “G-Day.”) With the inevitable hacker as a third wheel, Cate and Kentaro track down Old Man Shaw in their quest to discover their family’s connection to Monarch. I felt like putting these third-rate Scooby Doo wannabes on mute while waiting for the return of the MUTOs.

They never disappoint. Wish I could say the same about Monarch.

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, Series Premiere (two episodes), Friday, November 17, Apple TV+