Why People Are the Heart of MONARCH: LEGACY OF MONSTERS

Apple TV+’s Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is a very big show. Of course, part of the reason is it features Godzilla, the big man himself. And it has a fair amount of other massive creatures to stretch the frame. But it’s also a show full of big mysteries, big characters, and big, big relationships. And that’s exactly how the makers of the show want it. We spoke to executive producers-developers Chris Black and Matt Fraction and executive producer-director Matt Shakman about making a show about people in which Godzilla also appears. Plus, hey, secret organizations and Snake Plissken fighting monsters.

Cate (Anna Sawai) stands on a rainy bridge looking up at Godzilla with a school bus and soldiers behind her.
Apple TV+

Monarch, the clandestine organization of monster tracking, has always been a force for good in the Monsterverse movies. Right away, however, the series positions them as a bit less trustworthy. They have some secrets, some skeletons in the closet. “They’re the scientists and the soldiers and the protectors and the people who are studying and defending us against Titans,” explained Black. “The movies are told very much from the inside looking out. We thought a fun approach to this was to flip that perspective really 180 degrees and tell the story from the outside looking in. You don’t know who Monarch are, that they just show up at the site of this horrible disaster. Did they know it was coming? Did they cause it? Who are they? What rights and responsibilities do they have here? And to build a mystery around that, that pulls our characters down this rabbit hole.”

Someone looks at a floor sign for Godzilla Evacuation Zone from Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.

The same holds true for Godzilla himself. In the 2014 Godzilla film, the King of the Monsters defends the Earth from MUTOs, but definitely not San Francisco, its people, or especially its buildings. Fraction tells us the giant lizard needs to remain a possible threat in the series, which takes place a year after that first film. “It’s the Godzilla show. We wanted Godzilla, right? He’s the King of the Monsters. He’s got to be in it. But, it was about building this human narrative that takes our cast on a global adventure and figuring out what’s the most painful, inconvenient, dangerous time to disrupt that quest with an encounter with a giant monster. It was really about creating spectacle and obstacle that stopped our characters from getting the answers that they want.”

“Very specific to episode one,” Black added, “we made a decision that we didn’t want Cate (Anna Sawai) to have a monster in her life in that story. That the only time you see Godzilla in Cate’s story, is in her flashback. Because we wanted the monster she’s dealing with in that storyline is her father.” Indeed, Hiroshi Randa and the secrets he kept from Cate and her half-brother Kentaro (Ren Watabe), who did not know about each other, is the driving factor in the show. It isn’t Godzilla.

May, Cate, and Kentaro stand in front of Cate's house in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.
Apple TV+

“I think that’s what the brilliance of what these guys constructed,” Shakman said, “is that it isn’t drama scene, spectacle scene, drama scene. It’s one sort of intertwining, beautiful narrative where the monsters are a part of the world. They have to deal with them sometimes on a banal level, sometimes in an exciting and dangerous way, but their whole lives are affected by the presence of these monsters.

“We tell the story of how Cate encounters Godzilla, and we’ve seen a portion of that sequence already in Godzilla 2014. We shot our own version of it, but it’s sort of interesting that we were on the other side of the bridge and you could almost have followed anybody on that bridge that day and there would’ve been an interesting family story and a story of trauma and how lives have been changed by how the world has changed around them.”

The Randa children and their respective families are, as Black explains, the key relationship of the show. Shakman agrees, adding “They’re siblings, but they come from such different backgrounds, cultural backgrounds. They were raised in completely different circumstances, and they both have an idea of who their father is that is different and is challenged.”

Monarch Legacy of Monsters Wyatt Russell
Apple TV+

Like Godzilla, Hiroshi ends up as both hero and villain. “He’s both good and bad, depending on your perspective,” Shakman continues. “Humans occupy similar terrain in this show. And certainly the father who looms large over the story has a larger agenda, but ends up leaving behind a certain emotional damage as well. So how do you reconcile those things? How do you navigate them? It’s what the show is about, at least in the present. Certainly in the past there are elements of that too.”

“In the past,” Fraction adds, “we have a scientist and we have a soldier, and they encounter two forces of nature, one human and one titan. And how those encounters influence and affect them in the past create the man Hiroshi Randa became, the father he was to these two characters, and everything ties together. It’s all ultimately asking the same question.”

But we also need to address the Kurt Russell of it all. Russell plays former Monarch soldier Lee Shaw, and his son Wyatt Russell portrays Shaw at the birth of Monarch itself. It’s a fascinating on-screen tandem role, and one the makers of the show couldn’t be happier they pulled off.

Monarch Legacy of Monsters Kurt Russell
Apple TV+

“Like Godzilla,” Shakman pointed out, “he’s one of the characters who crosses through the timelines. He’s an important point of view character in the past, learning about monsters, figuring out this world. And then he’s the wise sage who guides our young, newer generation in the present. It was obviously two important parts that needed two great actors. And as we made the list of all the great actors, oh my gosh, there’s an actor on each list who happens to be related and bear a striking resemblance to each other.

“Lo and behold,” he continued, “one of them, Kurt Russell, who we all grew up loving as much as we loved Godzilla. And Wyatt is an incredible actor who’s doing brilliant work. They got to make a character together. And yeah, there’s a little bit of Snake Plissken in there. But there’s also a lot of what Wyatt brings, and they’re very different performers. They have a different style and approach. It was fun to make the show and to have Kurt sit at the monitor behind and sort of watch what Wyatt was doing, or Wyatt watching his dad and to figure out how they could make something together that was new for both of them.”

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters airs weekly on Apple TV+.

Editor’s Note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. He hosts the weekly pop culture deep-dive podcast Laser Focus. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.

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