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Does Monarch: Legacy of Monsters signal the slow death of the cinematic universe as we know it?

Anna Sawai stands in the rain in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.
Apple TV+

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is two shows in one. In certain scenes, it’s little more than a breezy, big-budget series about a bunch of monster hunters, and it’s extremely good at being that. In other instances, it feels like a homework assignment — a piece of IP entertainment designed solely to bolster up a section of its greater franchise that was never all that developed in the first place.

The new Apple TV+ show is, of course, a spinoff of Legendary’s Godzilla and King Kong-led monster franchise, and it’s named after the government organization that was created to track and monitor the powerful titans at the center of its larger, multimedia series. Monarch, consequently, dedicates a not-insignificant portion of its runtime to subplots revolving entirely around its eponymous organization and, specifically, its responses to the monster attacks featured in 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. The show flashes back so many times to the San Francisco-set third-act disaster from Godzilla, in particular, that it calls to mind Marvel Studios’ post-Avengers: Endgame obsession with The Blip.

Its repeated callbacks to its franchise’s greatest hits aren’t the only things about Monarch: Legacy of Monsters that make it reminiscent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, either. The show feels distinctly tied to the wave of Cinematic Universe-style franchise-building that has dominated Hollywood for the past 10 years, but which seems to be in the midst of slowly but surely dying out. Monarch represents both the best and the worst of this brand of storytelling, and its flaws may reveal why audience interest in franchises like the MCU is fading at an exponential rate right now.

An entertaining show buried under IP obligations

Kiersey Clemons looks at Kurt Russell in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.
Apple TV+

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters isn’t, by any means, a complete miss. On the contrary, it’s a frequently entertaining show that looks significantly better than a lot of the other big-budget TV series that have premiered in recent memory. Thanks to the participation of cast members like Kurt Russell, Wyatt Russell, and Kiersey Clemons, Monarch also has enough star power to keep you consistently engaged. In fact, whenever it decides to simply trap its central stars in dangerously close proximity to a new, impeccably well-designed monster, Monarch is more entertaining and thrilling than it has any right to be.

Despite that fact, the series often diverts its focus away from its monster-hunting adventures in order to explore both the founding of Monarch and the organization’s morally dubious modern-day methods. These scenes not only require the inclusion of unlikable and uninteresting characters like Joe Tippet’s Tim, a low-level Monarch worker, and Anders Holm’s William Randa, a younger version of John Goodman’s Kong: Skull Island villain, but they also ground the show’s present-day action sequences to a halt. They’re jam-packed with dull exposition dumps and, even more importantly, seem to exist solely to fulfill Monarch’s obligations to its greater franchise.

To put it simply: They take a lot of the fun away from Monarch. What could have been a lighthearted, rollicking adventure show is only partly that, and partly an unnecessarily somber, staid drama that feels compelled to constantly remind you of its place within its wider fictional universe. The show is, in many ways, a perfect representation of the pros and cons of MCU-style storytelling. Its franchise lineage is simultaneously what makes it so appealing on paper and also the thing that drags it down.

Can Monarch: Legacy of Monsters exist without Godzilla and Kong?

A dragon roars atop a destroyed ship in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.
Apple TV+

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is one of the year’s most pitchable shows. Who wouldn’t want to watch a TV series about a bunch of monster hunters traveling across a world where Godzilla and King Kong already exist? The show sells itself. The problem is that Monarch doesn’t have enough faith in its own premise. It feels the need to remind you over and over again of the events of the films that have preceded it. Rather than just fully committing to its live-action monster adventures, it tries to split its focus between its pulpy set pieces and collection of dime-a-dozen government conspiracies.

The series should be one of the most purely enjoyable TV shows of 2023, and yet it spends more time exploring the origins of an underbaked, fictional organization and revisiting the climax of 2014’s Godzilla than it does just pitting its charismatic stars against its terrifying monsters. Whether or not that fact will make viewers give up en masse on Monarch remains to be seen. Either way, there’s no denying that audience interest in sprawling cinematic universes is waning. Fewer and fewer people seem interested in keeping up with the MCU, there remains a surprising lack of general interest in James Gunn’s new DCU, and the hype surrounding Monarch, one of the year’s most expensive shows, has been shockingly low.

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters — Official Trailer | Apple TV+

There are surely many reasons for all of this, and both critics and industry analysts alike will likely spend years parsing through them online. But if Monarch: Legacy of Monsters proves one thing, it’s that not every new blockbuster needs to double as a history lesson, especially not at the expense of its overall entertainment value.

The first two episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters are streaming now on Apple TV+.

Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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