This interview has been edited for clarity.
When fans think of the MonsterVerse, their thoughts are likely to be shadowed by the larger-than-life narratives of the kaijus that emerged to terrorise mankind, from the haunting depths of Godzilla to the primal battlegrounds of Kong: Skull Island. Humans had a rather insignificant presence during the cataclysmic clashes in Godzilla II: King of the Monsters to the epic showdown in Godzilla vs. Kong, as well as the upcoming sequel Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, even as these cinematic behemoths have captivated audiences with their larger-than-life presence.
In an interview with Geek Culture, the team behind the latest addition to this storied franchise, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, is revealed to be taking a new approach by bringing these immense creatures into the more personal, intimate realm of television. “We didn’t want to create a scaled-down version of the films, we wanted to talk about people. It’s television, a long-form serial narrative. They’re driven by characters, people that you’re interested in and you want to invite into your home and spend time with,” co-creator Matt Fraction remarked.
Unlike their cinematic predecessors, where the focus was often on the spectacle of monster battles, the show aims to delve deeper into the human elements, intertwining the fates of its characters with the colossal creatures that share their world.
Maybe it’s with the do with the smaller budgets of TV productions, or the more individual nature of the smaller screen, but make no mistake – the creative minds behind Monarch: Legacy of Monsters recognise the enormity of their task as the team has been charged with the formidable challenge of translating the grandiose spectacle of MonsterVerse films into a serialised format, and without losing the essence that makes these titans so awe-inspiring.
The first thing they did though, was to enroll the contribution of an acting titan, and his son.
The series, which shifts the perspective from the usual outsider’s view of Monarch to a more in-depth perspective of the organisation that has been pivotal in the MonsterVerse since its inception by vigilantly tracking Kaiju movements globally, centers around an ensemble cast of characters across two time periods and appearing in both is Army officer Lee Shaw. The younger Shaw in the 1950s is played by Wyatt Russell, while his older, wiser more brusque self is portrayed by acting legend and Wyatt’s real-life father, Kurt Russell.
The dramatic saga – spanning three generations – reveals buried secrets and serves as a pivotal link connecting the past and present, while offering a fresh narrative approach to the MonsterVerse and providing some back stories on the scientists and great minds behind the early development of the elusive, international entity that is Monarch.
This casting decision, says Chris Black, Monarch’s co-creator, was not pre-planned but became an exciting reality as the project evolved. “The project had been in development. We had been writing and working on the pilot script before the casting process began.”
“As soon as the idea of the Russells came up, we were sold,” he said. The aim was to create a character who was integral to both timelines, a link between different eras, and the father and son duo fit this vision perfectly.
In the 1950s, audiences follow Shaw, along with Keiko Miura (Mari Yamamoto) and Bill Randa (Anders Holm), whose exploration into the titans leads them to conflict with the military, and the creation of Monarch. 50 years later, Cate Randa (Anna Sawai) seeks out her father, Hiroshi Randa (Takehiro Hira). She reunites with her brother Kentaro Randa (Ren Watabe) and meets hacker May Olowe-Hewitt (Kiersey Clemons), with the trio eventually discovering untold secrets of the monsters.
It’s no small feat of having to make audiences care for the human characters, but in expanding the MonsterVerse, the creative team knew they had an opportunity to reveal more about the elusive organisation Monarch, and reshape the perception of titanic clashes between monsters and humans. By focusing on the emotional journeys of characters across generations, the team aimed to build a deeper connection between viewers and the Monarch universe.
This approach allowed for a rich tapestry of stories that intertwine human experiences with legendary kaiju lore, making the series more than just about colossal battles, but about the legacy and impact these creatures have on human lives. “It was not easy, but then it became we sort of understood what the trajectory of it was leading from the grandparents to the parents to the children,” noted Black, “the history of Monarch is reflected in the generations of those characters.”
Creating new titans for the series involved imaginative processes, drawing inspiration from real-world creatures and scaling them up to fit the MonsterVerse. “We would start looking at the weirdest creatures that already exist in the world, right from that environment, things that are already terrifying and mysterious, smash them together, and make them big,” director Matt Shakman explained, showcasing the creative depth behind each monstrous creation. The team’s creativity wasn’t just limited to monster design; it extended to how these creatures interact with the human characters and environments, making each encounter unique and impactful.
The biggest challenge in creating the series was managing the extensive visual effects work required to bring the monsters to life on a TV scale. Unlike the movies, which focused on a few set pieces, the series required continuous visual storytelling across multiple episodes, demanding a more complex and diversified approach to effects work. The team’s commitment to maintaining continuity with the movies ensured that the series remained true to the established MonsterVerse, while also introducing new elements to keep the narrative fresh and engaging.
“We had to figure out how to support four times more content,” VFX supervisor Sean Konrad acknowledged, emphasising the complexity of this endeavour, “a lot of that means being smart about how you deliver the monsters on screen. It’s a huge challenge because you have to do all of these different and complicated creative effects for different creatures.” The approach demanded innovative strategies for visual effects, requiring collaboration with 15 visual effects companies globally. This level of intricacy transformed the production process into a vast, coordinated effort spanning across continents.
Transitioning the monumental scale of the MonsterVerse to the intimate setting of television was no small feat. The team behind Monarch: Legacy of Monsters adeptly navigated this challenge, crafting a series that resonates with both die-hard fans and newcomers. “It’s a beautiful human drama that will teach you those things along the way,” Shakman shared, highlighting the show’s accessibility and depth, “that’s one of the things that makes it so special.”
The series marks a significant evolution in the MonsterVerse, shifting the focus from colossal battles to the human stories that unfold in the shadow of these titans. This transition allows for a more nuanced exploration of characters and their interactions with the fantastic creatures that have captivated audiences for generations. Shakman emphasised this balance, stating, “The monsters and the organisation [Monarch] are second to the human story.”
Reflecting on the series, it is clear that Monarch: Legacy of Monsters stands as a bold reimagining of the MonsterVerse. It’s a testament to the creative team’s vision and dedication, offering a fresh perspective on a beloved franchise. The series not only pays homage to its cinematic predecessors but also carves out its unique identity, blending the awe of giant monsters with the intricacies of human drama.
As the interview concluded, the passion and commitment of the Monarch: Legacy of Monsters team were palpable. They have crafted a series that not only expands the MonsterVerse but also redefines what it means to tell stories within this fantastical world. Their work is a vivid reminder that even in the shadow of Titans, the human story remains at the heart of true storytelling.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is now streaming on AppleTV+.