MONARCH: LEGACY OF MONSTERS Review: How the Military/Industrial Complex Tries to Stamp Out the Big Guy
Kurt Russell, Wyatt Russell, Anna Sawai, Kiersey Clemons, Ren Watabe, Mari Yamamoto, Anders Holm, Joe Tippett and Elisa Lasowski star in the Apple TV+ series.
Kurt Russell makes everything better.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters
The 10-episode series makes its global debut with the first two episodes on Friday, November 17, followed by one episode every Friday through January 12 on Apple TV+. I've seen the first eight episodes.
From the moment he appears on screen, Kurt Russell commands attention, even if he's ensconced in a serene retirement village.
We know he doesn't belong there, even as we've known he's the star of every movie and every television show in which he has appeared, dating back to the beginning of his career in supporting roles on television. His presence always commands attention.
Soon enough, he won leading roles, such as Disney's The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) and The Barefoot Executive (1971) -- both of which I remember warmly from a child's point of view -- and then the searing The Deadly Tower (1975), as well as John Carpenter's Elvis (1979), before cementing his leading man status as the bearded and perpetually-growling hero in Carpenter's Escape From New York (1981) and The Thing (1982), in which he distanced himself very far from his work in the Magic Kingdom.
Kurt Russell has always been a dynamic presence in his leading roles on the big screen, so it's no surprise that he gives a welcome jolt when he makes his first appearance in his first small-screen role since Christmas Miracle in Caufield, U.S.A. (1977).
In the series, Kurt Russell and his son Wyatt Russell portray the same character at two different stages of life. Their character, Lee Shaw, is a military man who first becomes involved with two scientists in the 1950s. Together, they are behind the corporation that becomes Monarch, hunter of giant monsters, or titans, in the succeeding decades.
Developed by Chris Black and Matt Fraction, the first two episodes were written by Chris Black and directed by Matt Shakman. The flashback-happy series begins in 1973 with John Goodman as Bill Randa (circa Kong: Skull Island, 2017) before moving to 2015 in the post-Godzilla (2014) era, where Cate (Anna Serwei), Kentaro (Ren Watabe), and May (Kiersey Clemons) are introduced in Tokyo. As we're starting to gain our footing, the series then jumps back to 1959 Kazakhstan, where Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell), Billy Randa (Anders Holm) and Keiko (Mari Yamamoto) are part of Monarch, investigating a possible titan sighting.
The series thus serves as a prequel, establishing how Monarch began and developed in the 1950s, and also a filler in the holes between Gozilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017) in the so-called Monsterverse. It's a classic 'who asked for this?' scenario, where I don't know anyone who was dying to know how Monarch got started and what went wrong with the company, which, as I recall, is pretty much an evil corporation by the time of Godzilla (2014) and its sequels.
What matters, though, is the monsters. When Gojira first emerges from the ocean in 1954 -- properly respectful of the original original -- yes, it's cool and satisfying. With more than 20 years' experience writing and producing TV shows, showrunner Chris Black (Severance, Outcast) knows how to pace the episodes, and the writers mix in character development, humor and romance between the appearance of the monsters. It's all engaging and fine.
Dramatically speaking, Wyatt Russell and Kiersey Clemons buttress the other actors in their respective timelines, even as it dips into melodrama and certain other spoiler-y tropes. It's a bonus to have Wyatt Russell playing his father as a young man, even if their ages don't quite match the character's actual age; the elder Russell's character should be in his 90s, as is mentioned at least twice by other characters, but that is not explained in the first eight episodes.
Really, though, it's Kurt Russell and/or the monsters that juice up the episodes whenever they appear, making me wish I had a bigger TV and/or more indulgent neighbors, so I properly wallow in my boyhood memories.