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The creators of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters aren’t just trying to make a Godzilla spinoff show

Monarch co-creators Chris Black and Matt Fraction and director Matt Shakman open up about why their new MonsterVerse series is so focused on ordinary humans.

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A massive dinosaur-like creature roaring out of a wall of mist.
Image: Apple

Epic monster fights, dazzling visuals, and the promise of an interconnected MonsterVerse are the things that have attracted audiences to many of Legendary and Warner Bros.’ recent Godzilla movies. All of those things are very much a part of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, Apple TV Plus’ new series set in the MonsterVerse from executive producers Chris Black and Matt Fraction and director / co-executive producer Matt Shakman.

But whereas films like Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla vs. Kong were all about putting the spotlight on their titular Titans, Legacy of Monsters is a deep, multigenerational dive into the lives of ordinary people — the kind whose personal stories just wouldn’t fit into the confines of your average kaiju disaster movie.

When I recently sat down with Black, Fraction, and Shakman, they told me that while they were well aware of some viewers’ aversion to Godzilla projects spending too much time on the ground with hapless humans, they were also wary of giving audiences too much of a good thing (read: big kaiju battles). In order for Monarch to work as an expansion of the MonsterVerse and an exploration of what all Godzilla embodies, the trio explained, they had to find a sustainable balance between spectacle and character-driven drama.

When Legacy of Monsters was first announced, a lot of people’s initial reactions were, “Oh, they’re doing a Godzilla spinoff series. Cool.” But I wanted to hear from you all what kind of show you wanted to make and what function you wanted to have within the larger context of the Legendary MonsterVerse. 

Chris Black: The challenge for us was figuring out how to live within the canonical mythology of Legendary movies, which was the sandbox that we had been given to play in. It’s a great sandbox with great toys, and we were very happy to do it. But we also were like, “How do we carve out our own lane?” We didn’t just want to do a TV-size version of the movie; it had to be its own thing. And the great news was Legendary was very supportive of that.

One of the first conversations I had with them was when they asked if I wanted to be involved, and I asked, “Does it have to be like the movies?” And they said, “No, it should be whatever you think works best.” With that freedom, when Matt and I started working on it, we just decided that the way in was through this family — through the foundational essence of the Randa family. As we were kicking ideas around, we came to this notion of, “Well, what if it’s about a secret? What if it’s about this man who had two families, and his daughter discovers the terrible secret that he keeps, and that sends them down this rabbit hole, leading them into the path of monsters?” Then we felt, okay, now we have a way, and now we have a roadmap for a show that’s pulled forward by character and not necessarily driven forward by monsters.

Matt Fraction: We didn’t want to make a Godzilla spinoff show; we wanted to make a series that lived in that world. People go to Godzilla movies to see Godzilla, but we knew we couldn’t compete with the spectacle, and we weren’t even going to try. We wanted to build a show that lives in a world where Godzilla’s real, and Titans are real. But now what? It’s not a 9/11 show; it’s a 9/12 show. The movies are where the buildings get knocked down, but this show is where people are getting up again, dusting themselves off, and figuring out, “What does my life mean now when my world has changed entirely?”

The humans in Western Godzilla narratives are always meant to pull you in and sort of make you relate to the stakes, but there are a lot of people who feel like those characters tend to wind up feeling like distractions from the monster spectacle. What lit you up about exploring this world using a family drama as your focus?

Matt Shakman: I have a similar kind of feeling about the human characters in some of the movies. I love to see Godzilla and Kong fight each other, but I’m less invested in the human stories on the ground. But I got a chance to read the pilot that these two had created and was shocked at how beautiful a tapestry it was — that it was this multigenerational family story. And that the characters weren’t insiders, you know? They weren’t scientists and experts. They were people who were discovering the world firsthand. So if you weren’t a fan of the MonsterVerse, you had characters who could help guide you and explain, but it was also a beautiful mystery and a puzzle that was working within the legendary MonsterVerse that was already established.

CB: Some fans of the franchise say, “Okay, well, we’ve met these characters; now let’s get to the spectacle.” I think if you’re talking about one movie that comes out every four years, you can do that. But if you’re talking about a show that you’re going to watch from week to week, if you immediately dispense with the characters to get to the monsters, it’s going to get boring.

People are very used to interpreting classic Japanese depictions of Godzilla as a metaphor for the devastation of nuclear war, but I was surprised to see the way Monarch frames G-Day and some people’s refusal to believe that it happened as a kind of parallel to how segments of the real-world public responded to covid-19. What other sorts of ideas about our real world did you want to explore through the show — not necessarily through the monsters themselves, but using this atmosphere to sort of hold up a mirror to the audience?

MF: Even though this is a global show, it starts in Japan for a reason. Godzilla is a Japanese character, and it was in the Toho films that they discovered Godzilla is a lens you can view anything through. It could be global scale events or deeply personal events. There has been this destruction that has happened both in Cate’s physical environment but also in her emotional life. 

She’s lost her father, and then it turns out he’s betrayed her, and that’s profoundly devastating in an emotional way. The great gift of Godzilla, as a character, is its allegorical adaptability to any scale problem you want to solve, and in a show when you have humans dealing with these profoundly emotional, painful, shocking betrayals, it’s a really rich source of drama.

Matt Fraction, I heard you on The Best Show the other day discussing which animal you would want to be killed by if that’s how you had to go out.

MF: [Laughs] Oh, yeah! Best Show for life.

Out of all of your Titans, aside from Godzilla... who’d you want to get got by?

MF: Whatever would be fastest, I think?

MS: I was going to say, “What would be the quickest and least painful?” 

MF: None of the ones we created are good choices here, cause they’re all so... ugh.

CB: Maybe Rodan, because then you’d go on like a character in Game of Thrones. That’d be real fast.

MS: Did you ever do that thing when you were a kid with, like, dandelions and make their heads pop off? I want Kong to smash me up and just kind of toss me over his shoulder and go about his business.

MF: I’d pick Kong, too, just because that’s pretty efficient.

MS: I want to see it coming, too. Like, “Oh, my God, look at him, he’s so big! Oh, I’m your biggest fan.” Just not the little ones. Definitely not a bunch of the little ones.