After four feature films (with a fifth on the way) and a Netflix animated series, Legendary’s MonsterVerse is expanding once more with the debut of the first live-action series to be a part of the franchise, in the form of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.
Based around the organization that’s been a part of all of the films, the Apple TV+ series focuses on Cate Randa (Anna Sawai), who makes a couple of big discoveries about her departed father: He has a son, Kentaro (Ren Watabe), she’s never met and he was a part of Monarch, a mysterious group who were present when Godzilla rampaged through San Francisco – an event Cate was present for.
Soon, Cate and Kentaro are looking for answers about their father and Monarch itself, joined by Kentaro’s acquaintance, May (Kiersey Clemons), and Lee Shaw (Kurt Russell), who worked with Cate and Kentaro’s grandparents back at the very beginning of Monarch in the 1950s – with scenes set in the 50s starring Kurt Russell’s son, Wyatt Russell, as the younger Lee alongside Mari Yamamoto as Keiko Randa and Anders Holm as William Randa, the role played by John Goodman in 2017’s Kong: Skull Island (Goodman also briefly reprises his role).
Fandom spoke to the show’s creators. Chris Black (Severance) and Matt Fraction (Hawkeye) about making sure the MonsterVerse stayed big even on a smaller screen, deciding on what time period to set the show in, and more.
DON’T GO CHEAP
One thing is clear watching Monarch: This show cost a considerable amount of money. With scenes shot in multiple countries, boasting impressive special effects and visuals (the first two episodes were directed by Game of Thrones and WandaVision veteran Matt Shakman, before he takes on the upcoming Fantastic Four), it feels impressive in scope from the get go. That didn’t mean there was an open checkbook, of course, but as Matt Fraction remarked, “It’s a show for Apple TV+ and its global division. We wanted a show that felt like it could live anywhere in the world, we wanted an international cast of characters. And that meant we’re going to shoot in as many places as we can. We filmed in Tokyo… How could you not, right? How could you be involved in a Godzilla thing and not go to Tokyo?”
Fraction added that the plan always was to introduce their main characters and then “The world of the show gets bigger as their world gets bigger through their experience and as they chase these things down. We knew the scale of things was always going to be big and we would be okay because we were always anchored to these people and to their very, very human drama.”
Said Chris Black, “The movies are done on a massive scale. And as a television series, we certainly had a generous amount of resources and Legendary and Apple knew that this show needed to be big, that what we could not do was have people watch this show and think that it was the cheap looking TV version of the Monsterverse; that it had to be at the caliber of the feature films. For a television show, we were given really generous resources to do that.” He then added, with a laugh, “That said, there’s never enough time, there’s never enough money!”
Monarch is set in two primary time periods, with scenes in the 1950s, during the organization’s earliest days, and then the material in the “present” – well, sort of, as we pick up with Cate in 2015, a few months after the events of 2014’s Godzilla, the film that kicked off the MonsterVerse, as everyone is still trying to process that these massive creatures exist and could return at any point.
Asked if there was a lot of discussion about when to set it, Black replied, “There’s always back and forth. It’s always a creative conversation. The story kind of originated with Matt and wanting to tell the idea of Bill Randa as the founder of Monarch, and what was the origin story of the Monarch organization. And then in the present day, it just really felt like 2014, “G-Day,” – the day the world discovered that Titans are real – felt like the starting point of the story. It felt like that’s the day the world changed. If you’re telling a human story, that’s the day everyone’s perception of the world that they live in was upended.”
Fraction also said he felt this time period allowed them to fill in some gaps about how Monarch expands in both resources and respect the way it did, offscreen, to when we saw them in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. “Canonically, between the 2014 film and King of the Monsters, we watch Monarch go from being the shadowy, ragtag, ignored, kind of question mark of a cluster of science weirdos to the voice of global authority and safety in the face of Titan attacks. The sirens go off and everybody heads to the Titan bunkers. No one’s asking ‘Who are they?’ In that five year span, the world knows ‘Oh, Monarch is who we trust. Monarch is who you listen to when the monsters come.’”
Black noted that by King of the Monsters “They’ve got a massive underwater base!” with Fraction adding “You can tell that narrative of starting from two people with clipboards, trying to get the attention of the military, to a voice of global authority. As the world learns who Monarch is, our characters are going to learn who Monarch is, as well.
On top of that, Black said, “We love this idea of flipping the perspective. In the movies, you’re always inside Monarch, you know who these guys are. You know they’re the good guys. They’re the heroes of their own story. We love the idea of turning that POV around. And instead of looking from the inside out, looking from the outside in and not knowing who these guys are. Are they good guys? Are they bad guys? Who gave them the authority to be in charge? It’s like Cate and Kintaro discovering this revelation that their father worked for them and is he a hero or villain? That’s the mystery that needs to be unraveled. And at the end of the day, we, the audience, know that Monarch ultimately turns out to be the good guys, to be the heroes of the feature films, but how did they get there? Were they always those guys?”
AND ACCOUNTED FOR
There will be some fans who will always say they don’t want or need humans at all in their monster movies – just have it be wall to wall monster mayhem. That’s obviously not a practical approach and Monarch is about, well, Monarch and the people involved in it, but the monsters are certainly not forgotten. In fact, every single episode has at least one big monster sequence, featuring faces both new and familiar (yes, including Godzilla).
As Fraction put it, “I think maybe another bad version of doing the small version of the movie would be to do the Monarch show without monsters,” though Black countered “We also knew the other end of the spectrum was it couldn’t just be Monster of the Week.”
As Fraction explained, “The trick became, when our characters are right on the precipice of getting an answer, or getting what they want, or getting some kind of resolution, that’s the best time to have something come in and terrify them. And we knew that there would be these kind of larger set pieces, we knew there would be kind of more intimate threats. We got to play with the scale, building off the stuff that Barnaby Legg, the mythology manager at Legendary, [had done]. We’d seen in the films that scale was a thing that we could play with, so it was a chance to grow that section of the cryptozoology of it all.”
Cate and the 2015 crew do have their own Titan encounters, but sometimes those monster appearances are in the 1950s as well, which helped the show from breaking canon. As Black noted, “Given the timeline, as Matt pointed out, between [Godzilla] 2014 and then Godzilla: King of the Monsters, there aren’t a lot of recorded Titan attacks. It’s not like they were rampaging across the world. So how do we contain that so it didn’t conflict with the mythology, the canon, that’s been established? And one of the ways we’re able to do that was to put those monster stories into the flashbacks.”
Fraction said they also realized they could sometimes “have them just be smaller, you know? 10 cities weren’t destroyed, but there was something smaller and creepier that was more credible to let us just have the monster moments.”
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters premieres November 17 with two episodes on Apple TV+.
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