Notable exceptions like the original Jurassic Park and Kong: Skull Island aside, films featuring giant monsters are notorious for having a human problem. Human characters are necessary for helping push the story forward, but often they’re one-dimensional, lackluster caricatures that don’t do much to elevate the movies they’re in. The thing is, if you’re going to try to distract me from the giant monster crashing its way through the city with a human subplot, it better be interesting enough that I don’t spend the entire time they’re on screen wondering when we’re getting back to the smashy-smashy-chompy-compy.
It has to be a show about people who live in a world where monsters actually exist
If there’s a notorious human problem in many kaiju films, imagine how much of an issue it has the potential to be in an entire TV series. With that in mind, we sat down with the showrunners of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, Chris Black and Matt Fraction, to discuss how they were going to help their Apple TV+ series break the boring-human mold.
“When we first started talking to Legendary and Apple about developing this as a series and taking their feature films turning them into a television show, the very first thing we said was, ‘This can’t be a show about monsters. It won’t work if it’s a show about monsters. It has to be a show about people who live in a world where monsters actually exist,’” Black explains.
Don’t take that to mean you’re not going to see any kaiju action, though. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters makes sure that the hits keep coming so far as monster fights and appearances are concerned, and it’s not all Godzilla (2014) flashbacks, either. Still, there’s an art of balance when it comes to keeping your human story engaging enough that you don’t spend every moment without Godzilla or any of the other monsters on screen wondering when you’re going to see them again. When it came to that balance, Black and Fraction had some ideas in mind.
“You just had to approach it as how would you tell the story of this family and this brother and the sister discovering the secret of their father and that he had betrayed them,” Black continues. “And then there was this family legacy that they didn’t know anything about. And it sends them on this journey to uncover the mystery of their family. And to just write that story with those characters and create a family and a set of characters that you invest in their struggle and their trauma and their journey. And then they happen to exist in that larger world.”
But what does that larger world look like? Kaiju have a way of making everything seem much smaller than it is, not just in size relativity, but in knocking humans off the top of the food chain way too. For Fraction and Black, that’s where the mystery of Monarch comes in. Fans of Legendary’s MonsterVerse are familiar with the organization but, up until the Apple TV+ series, we’ve never gotten a chance to understand what this whole Monster CIA situation is. Still, that familiarity is something the show’s creators kept in mind.
That exploration of the human element in a world learning about kaiju and how to exist alongside them is at the core of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. Rather than dealing with the reactions in the moment that we’re used to seeing in the films, the new show takes its time to unwrap not just the PTSD that would come alongside minding your own business when a 400-foot tall lizard comes up from the ocean, but what it means to live in a world where monsters exist.
Dissection of trauma and existing in a complicated world has become a popular theme in media as of late. While there have been varying degrees of success in those stories in recent years, Fraction and Black have the right idea when it comes to integrating that element into their show.
“For me, I just wanted it to be fun. It’s dangerous. There were real stakes, there’s trauma, there’s loss, there’s really high emotion in it. But what was most important to me was to create something that when you saw one episode, you couldn’t wait to see the next one, and then you couldn’t wait to see the next one,” Black mentions.
That adventure ends up having more twists and turns than one might expect, and Fraction isn’t kidding about returning to the cliffhanger aspects of older serialized stories. In addition to the Randa kids trying to figure out what happened to their father, they find themselves deeply entrenched in Monarch’s business. As you’ve likely guessed, Monarch as a whole isn’t too pleased with that development.
But the time period is important here. While Monarch: Legacy of Monsters takes place across two key timeframes, its most contemporary is after the events of Godzilla (2014). This means that much of what we’ve learned about Monarch in subsequent films isn’t common knowledge yet. So, for the series protagonists, Monarch is still just a shadow operation.
“By picking up right after the events of 2014, we could tell that story as Monarch comes out of the shadows,” Fraction adds. “So as our characters are learning about Monarch, about its history and about its mission, we’re watching Monarch pivot to becoming that large global voice of confident authority and assuredness in the World of Titans.”
Still, much of Legacy of Monsters is less about the Monarch we know and more about what Monarch was originally meant to be. The organization started with two scientists and a smitten military man with hopes of learning more about these giant creatures lurking in the depths. Of course, things are never that simple once you get the government involved, and scientists need funding. By including Monarch’s origins, it meant the Randa family story needed to span generations. Though, while there are a lot of parallels between the two decades depicted and, for that matter, the generations of Randas intertwined with Monarch, much of the similarities are more due to history repeating itself than intentional touchpoints in the story.
“It’s funny. I’d have to think hard on if there was one pivotal kind of point,” Black says. “I think it was a lot more about the continuum of it, that it was to tell a multi-generational, and this was something that had really originated with Matt, was that to start the story with Bill Randa and the foundation of Monarch.”
That foundation may sound like a dull way to explore a MonsterVerse on the tin, but Fraction, Black, and their writers room seem to have successfully cracked the ongoing human problem in Legendary’s monster franchise. The Randa family mystery is compelling on its own, but weaving Monarch’s well-intended origins with its contemporary complications makes for one heck of a show.
Let us know what you thought of the first two episodes in the comments!
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Eugen Boglaru is an AI aficionado covering the fascinating and rapidly advancing field of Artificial Intelligence. From machine learning breakthroughs to ethical considerations, Eugen provides readers with a deep dive into the world of AI, demystifying complex concepts and exploring the transformative impact of intelligent technologies.