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‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ premiere is a story of hidden families and kaiju destruction

A glimpse (or roar) of Godzilla is enough to bridge us through two stories through different decades.

Episode 1. “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,” premiering November 17, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters has two things to balance as a show set within this ever-growing monsterverse. There is the Godzilla expectations where the iconic character and other kaiju (or MUTO) have to appear in some form. But in an episodic format, you must tinker with the right frequency. If the show is full of roars and massive destruction, it dilutes the human connections and minimizes their effect. On the other hand, if they rarely show up at all, it might seem a little ridiculous in a world that obviously feels their impact. The premiere episode, “Aftermath,” sets the table within two different timelines.

If you aren’t familiar with 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, that’s fine. The premiere does enough to familiarize those who might not be familiar with the films with a base-level amount of breadcrumbs. The first scene is a flashback to the original 1973 Skull Island expedition led by Monarch’s Bill Randa (a returning John Goodman). It may not be initially apparent, but later in the episode, the younger version of Bill is played by Anders Holm. Bill provides a mystery MacGuffin of recordings and documents that drive some of the present-day narrative.

In 2015, San Francisco is still dealing with the ramifications of “G-Day,” or when Godzilla leveled the city. Cate (Anna Sawai) travels to Japan to settle the affairs of her late father, Hiroshi (Takehiro Hira). The country itself has massive amounts of protocols in place to counteract any MUTO troubles. Before you even get off the plane, a hazmat team sprays all the incoming passengers (some MUTO repellant?). Because of this constant threat, a whole industry of Godzilla defense systems has been implemented. We’re talking missiles on bridges and evacuation lanes and estimated places in the subway. I wonder if the series will elaborate on that in future episodes.

Apple TV

Cate is dealing with some severe PTSD as she survived G-Day with an extremely up-close encounter with Godzilla. If that wasn’t enough emotional damage, she goes to an apartment and finds her dad had a whole other family – a wife and her half-brother Kentaro (Ren Watabe). They are initially not quite fond of one another. Imagine if you found out your father had a whole other life and family across the globe and kept it hidden from you. Nevertheless, they need one another to uncover the hidden truths of their father’s past. There is a scene where a Godzilla false alarm happens, and it is nice for Kentaro’s mother to comfort Cate as we go into the flashback to know why she reacts in a certain way.

Other than that, Cate and Kentaro couldn’t be any more different on where to go next. That’s until Kentaro brings Cate to their father’s office. They find Randa’s old package with all the Monarch contents there. I mentioned earlier there are two timelines, and director Matt Shakman and writer Chris Black do a good job of combining them to not feel all over the place. It’s not as clear initially, but there’s a bridge between these two points. We go back to 1959 in Kazakhstan, where a young Bill, his wife, scientist Keiko (Mari Yamamoto), and an army officer, Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell), are headed to an abandoned power plant. They expect to meet an enormous amount of radiation, but the Geiger counter barely renders a reading once they get there.

Apple TV

They find a colossal cluster of MUTO eggs inside the building's core. Yay! Here’s a chance for Bill and Keiko to validate their research and push the beginnings of Monarch forward. Lee is hesitant about all of this. It’s one thing to hear about MUTO, but another to see these baby arachnids in one place. Once we get to the end of “Aftermath,” this is where the overlap happens. In the 2015 timeline, Cate and Kentaro go to his ex-girlfriend May (Kiersey Clemons) for help cracking the protection around the documents. It doesn’t seem like things ended well for Kentaro and May, but nevertheless, she agrees to help them.

In unlocking the documents, we find out Keiko is Hiroshi’s mother, thus Cate and Kentaro’s grandmother. (dun, dun, dun). That reveal is upended by a revelation of Keiko’s apparent death being overtaken by spiders and falling into the pit. It would be pretty wild to kill off a character this soon (although I don’t know how she would survive). Perhaps the show will go back even further to see what led her to the reactor in the first place.

Kaiju are a forever looming threat in this universe, but Legacy of Monsters feels like it’s keening in on more of the dramatic aspects of uncovering a secret government agency. In this premiere, keeping the timelines together in a coherent manner that latches you to the story works. It remains to be seen if that can continue throughout the entire season.

Collateral Damage

  • The Monarch offices see their old tech getting hacked into, but don’t have any means to stop it. Who did the scientist send to Japan, and why?