In the nearly 70 years since the first Godzilla emerged from the ocean and stomped through Japan, the creature inspired by post-war anxieties about nuclear war has spawned 32 movies. That has to be a record!
The latest in what’s known as the MonsterVerse is not a blockbuster but a sweeping ten episode epic rolling out on Apple TV+ on Friday, Nov. 17th: Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.
A fresh take on the genre, Monarch focuses more on the mysteries behind the organization that studied the monsters and the cross-generational human toll left in their wake. The series shares its DNA with four relatively recent blockbusters, beginning with Godzilla (2014) and followed by Kong: Skull Island (2017), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), and Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).
While you don’t need to watch the predecessors to jump into the new series, you’ll benefit from this quick guide to the backstory — as well as a psychologist’s take on what you might get out of it.
The Premise of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters
The story traces its roots back to the monumental clash between Godzilla and the “MUTO” – Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism – in the 2014 Godzilla, the film that introduced Monarch, the secret government organization that tracks and studies giant monsters, also known as kaiju or Titans.
Led by Bill Randa (John Goodman) and his team of scientists and soldiers, their stated mission is to protect humanity from the threat of the kaiju by learning more about their origins and abilities. Can they survive nuclear war? Understand human emotion? Communicate with other creatures – or with us? It was up to Monarch to find out.
Alternating between the 1950s and the present day, the new series follows Bill Randa’s kids, Cate and Kentaro, as they set out to understand how their family became so deeply intertwined with the mysterious organization.
Cryptic clues lead them into a world teeming with the colossal creatures, which propels them through a temporal wormhole. Suddenly they’re introduced to Army officer Lee Shaw (played by Wyatt Russell in the 50s and his father Kurt Russell in the present day). A tapestry of secrets begins to unravel, each one echoing through time as events cast enduring shadows on their lives.
Who will like Monarch?
While Monarch: Legacy of Monsters delivers plenty of wild ferocious beasts and the high octane action scenes of its predecessors, the series offers a more contemplative and grounded story – one that’s more focused on the people whose lives revolve around studying the creatures, and how deeply entangled they’ve become with their existence. Interlacing parallel stories between the monsters’ devastation and the consequences of human actions, the story skillfully weaves different themes as it explores our shared capacity for destruction.
The two timelines and 10 episode unspooling of the story will appeal to viewers more interested in the human drama and deeper layers beneath the surface than any monster movie before it. “[It’s] a multi-generational story that is about a family, about legacy,” showrunner Chris Black explained to Gold Derby. “Do you choose your own destiny or the one you inherit?”
Still, fans of the Godzilla movies will feel at home in a familiar world, but as the story is told through the fresh eyes of the younger generation, it asks the questions that new viewers will have and sets up the story in a way they can understand.
How to explain the enduring appeal of Godzilla — and what people get out of watching the colossal destructive beasts?
Good question. Aside from the shock and awe of the special effects that go into creating the enormous creatures and propelling them through recognizable worlds, there’s a deeper psychological reason that so many people like monster movies — Godzilla being one of the originals. While a lot of people like the adrenaline rush of coming face to screen with something bigger and more ferocious than a dinosaur, there’s a larger benefit to watching a Godzilla film, according to Colton Scrivner, a research scientist at the Recreational Fear Lab in Denmark. “[Viewers] get kind of a learning experience from this,” Scrivner explained to NPR. “…[It’s] a chance to push their boundaries and learn the limits of their fear and really learn how they respond when they’re afraid.”
Monster movies can also help you process your fears and bigger existential questions, he adds. “In the early months of the pandemic, we did a study showing that horror fans were reporting greater psychological resilience when nobody really knew what was going on. It’s possible that these horror fans are just better at dealing with scary, new experiences because they play with those kind of feelings all the time.”
An immersive, meta take on the Godzilla franchise, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters asks bigger questions – about the origin story of the monsters born in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, about the generational costs of the wars between monsters and humans, and about our own capacity for destruction. Yet ultimately, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is a character study that explores – and perhaps helps us build – human resilience in the wake of the unimaginable.
If you’re looking to ratchet up your adrenaline a bit more, queue up Godzilla (2014), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Godzilla vs. Kong (2021). And get ready, because there’s also Godzilla: Minus One – in theaters December 2023 – which is not attached to the series but is closer to its blockbuster predecessors.
All photos courtesy of Apple TV+.