There have been 37 Godzilla films since 1954, made with inconsistent continuity, shifting tone, and varying quality control, but similar in that the star is unkillable both within the series and in the hearts of his fans. . The last ones, the Japanese”Godzilla minus one”, is currently in theaters here, while the American “Monsterverse”, with characters licensed by Toho Co. Ltd., has just produced an immensely enjoyable television series, “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters”, which will premiere Friday on Apple TV+.
Godzilla belongs in Japan in the same way that, say, the Doctor from “doctor who”will always be British, even if that character is from a different planet and mutable in all other respects. It’s a shortcoming of the four American films that they have relatively little Asian content. Godzilla is a creature with particular meaning in Japan, an atomic monster created just nine years after nuclear bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Tokyo was bombed: a memory as much as a metaphor. In a sense, Americans shouldn’t make Godzilla movies at all.
That’s why it’s good to see that the series, which takes place between 2014 “godzilla” and 2019 “Godzilla: king of the monsters”, respects the national origin of the big guy. Japanese characters play important roles here and Tokyo gets its close-up.
That city, completely destroyed and magically rebuilt so many times throughout the canon’s life, has yet to experience being crushed by monsters (only San Francisco has had that honor, as shown in the Monsterverse “Godzilla”), although yes. ready, with special evacuation routes and missile launchers mounted on highway overpasses.
“Monster grooming is big business now,” a taxi driver tells Cate Randa (Anna Sawai), a traumatized survivor of San Francisco’s “G-Day,” who has come to Tokyo to solve a mystery: her father, Hiroshi. Randa (Takehiro Hira), who disappeared in the aftermath of that battle, is presumed dead in a plane crash in Alaska (presumably, I say) and has come to take a look inside her Tokyo apartment. What she finds there is another wife and an unlikely half-brother, the surly artist Kentaro (Ren Watabe). In addition to her father, Cate and Kentaro share father issues and a desire to get to the bottom of his disappearance; After some negotiations, they put aside their mutual suspicions and visit Hiroshi’s office, where, in a safe behind a map, they discover a wallet.
We’ve seen that bag before, in a prologue set in 1973, thrown into the ocean by John Goodman, briefly reprising his role from “2017.”Kong: Skull Island.” It contains a dark data drive, which brings Kentaro’s American friend (girlfriend, sort of) May (Kiersey Clemons) onto the scene; She possesses computer hacking knowledge and fast typing skills that no sci-fi movie can do without. Her excavation triggers an alarm that alerts the forces of Monarch, a quasi-military monster surveillance organization, which we understand has entered a period of decline. And here we go.
As this plot develops, we move to the 1950s, where the foundations of the current situation are being laid, and to another trio: Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell, Kurt’s son), appointed by the army to ensure the security of the cryptozoologist Bill. Randa (Anders Holm, who will become the aforementioned John Goodman) and Dr. Keiko Muri (Mari Yamamoto), on their way to investigate puzzling phenomena at a closed nuclear facility in Kazakhstan. It is clear from the beginning that they are old friends (over time we will return to their meeting and their historical evolution) and that Bill, a little stupid, and Keiko are a couple with a child, and that there is something triangular. about their relationship, “Jules and Jim” style.
The trio becomes a quartet when they contact an older Shaw (Kurt Russell, Wyatt’s father and the series’ breakout star) for help. He is confined in a Monarch nursing home (sort of like the Village in “The Prisoner”), from which one feels he could have left at any time. But the children give him a reason for going, which matches his own reasons, and they leave. Like most satisfying adventure movies, this is a story about teams, teammates, and teamwork. “I always thought ‘The Goonies’ deserved a sequel,” a Monarch bigwig will ironically say when the young people embark on a crazy mission; but people love “The Goonies.” They are people who need people (they are heroes, but also vulnerable) and a giant reptile.
You don’t need to have seen all three Monsterverse movies to understand “Monarch”; The series has its own tone, characters, and themes, although some (military arrogance, human damage to the natural world) reappear throughout Godzilla’s entire story. Everything important is clear from the context, and in fact you would be better off arriving fresh, without the distraction of tying “Monarch” to an extended world; It can be quite difficult to follow the series as it is, with its multiple storylines and time changes. (It doesn’t help that Bill and Keiko are Cate and Kentaro’s grandparents, and Lee, who should be about 90 years old, as mentioned more than once, is played by Kurt Russell, who is 72 and doesn’t look it.)
It’s very nice that Russell, who established his genre credibility in films like “Escape From New York,” “The Thing” and “Big Trouble in Little China,” isn’t playing a fall version of some franchise hero; but an original conception (albeit of the adventure movie variety, the wisecracking, grizzled old professional). With his hair pulled back, his impressive jawline, and his lively eyes (he’s still visibly the computer that wore tennis shoes), Russell’s Shaw is imposing and, like many characters here, sometimes difficult to understand. (It’s not always clear who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and maybe there are no bad guys.) And the fact that he is the oldest, most experienced, and most troublesome of them all increases his authority. Plus, he gets the funniest lines.
Which isn’t to say Russell is the whole show. (With its dual timelines, each with a complement of flashbacks, there’s plenty of spectacle to go around and characters to fill it.) Sawai as Cate and Yamamoto as Keiko, who are doubles in impulsiveness, resolve and dignity, hold the screen with equal power; Clemons’ May, with her wounded bravado, is quite moving. Wyatt Russell, so great and different in “Lodge 49,” does an excellent job playing the character of his father before becoming that character. But the series is well-acted from top to bottom, with Joe Tippett and Elisa Lasowski also notable as Monarch agents.
As for the series’ other big star, largely invisible but always present, unlike, say, the three-headed Ghidorah, there’s something cute about Godzilla, with his pear-shaped body and tiny head; Even his roar may remind you of a house pet. (Cate will have a moment of connection.) Unintelligent monsters are boring (you can keep your zombies), and as all right-thinking people believe, Godzilla, despite the immense collateral damage he causes, is one of the good guys.
While I wouldn’t be surprised to see the series end with the kind of battle royale that forms the climax of most monster movies, superhero movies, fantasy movies, or space operas in the last 20 or 30 years, big CGI creatures terrifying only appear. occasionally in the eight episodes, of 10, available for review. That will spell disappointment for some, but it leaves plenty of time for the human stories — the sought-after father, the lost loves, the emerging bonds — that make “Monarch” compelling. While big-screen American movies can be a loud, dark slog, the dramatic equivalent of a giant, lumbering dinosaur, “Monarch” remains snappy and fun.
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