“Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” Creators Matt Fraction and Chris Black on What Made Season One Roar
Godzilla stories aren’t always known for riveting human characters—often, human beings are ants for Godzilla, or one of his fellow Titans, to stomp on. However, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters creators Matt Fraction and Chris Black have given us a Godzilla series in which the people are as richly realized and central to the drama as the big guy and his Titan siblings are. The Apple TV+ series is set in the monsterverse set up by films such as 2014’s Godzilla and its sequel, Kong: Skull Island, and Godzilla vs. Kong, and manages to both broaden and deepen this world by putting the shadowy Monarch agency and the people who have run it, and run from it, front and center.
Fraction and Black deploy a charmingly offbeat ensemble, set in both in the past and present, to not only tell the origin of the monster organization, Monarch, but also to look at how the agency and the monsters it tracks have affected the lives of an engaging cast of characters. The central mystery of the series revolves around a single family, including a survivor of G-Day, Cate Randa (Anna Sawai), and her newfound half-brother, Kentaro (Ren Watabe) get thrown into a world of conspiracies as they hunt for their missing father, Hiroshi (Takehiro Hira), a former Monarch employee who worked with Lee Shaw (played by both Kurt and Wyatt Russell at different points of his life), a central figure to the drama.
With season one now in the books, we chatted recently with Fraction and Chris Black about how they not only crafted an authentic world of the monsters living among us (or beneath us, to be exact), but created compelling human drama on top of it.
This is one of the few shows in which exposition and information is fun.
Fraction: Mission accomplished.
Chris, with all the history in a franchise this long-running, where’d you start with world-building?
Fraction: We had a unique challenge in that we wanted the show to appeal to fans of the Monsterverse. We wanted people who know the movies, who love the movies to come to this and see a world they know. They know G-Day, they know Godzilla, they know the history of Monarch. But we also wanted to invite people who might not and who might be like, “Oh, a Godzilla show. I’m not interested in that.” And so, we decided to tell the story from the approach of learning about this family and their secrets and their lives and their mysteries. We would joke, “Come from the monsters, stay for the people.” So, it was really about entering the world. The title of the first episode is “Aftermath,” and so it’s about, okay, what happens after G-Day?
So that was the first question for the series you wanted to answer?
Fraction: What happens? To us, the entry point to the story, which is now the world has been made aware that monsters are real, that they are a real existential threat to human survival, and what do we do about that? And then you pick these people up a year later, picking themselves up and dusting themselves off and going, okay, well, what is the world we live in now?
And we’ve got this family at the center of it all who are connected to Monarch and the monsters in ways they couldn’t have dreamed of…
Fraction: We really loved the kind of world-building that we were able to do as writers, but also that the production in the art department was able to do. I love when Cate arrives in Tokyo and when they’re decontaminating the plane, and she’s walking through the airport, and there are Godzilla evacuation signs. She gets in the cab driver, and there are signs around Tokyo that you’re immediately immersed in: this is the world we live in now. Hopefully, there’s a little bit of a shorthand that people will understand who aren’t necessarily familiar with the franchise, that’s what this means. I’m also a strong advocate of trusting the audience that they will figure it out.
How’d you want to show the differences between when Monarch was first introduced to the present day?
Black: One of the great gifts of coming into this timeline is that Monarch, in the Godzilla 2014 film, is a markedly different organization than who they are now. There are five years where they go from being anonymous, invisible, secret, weird, fringe science lunatics to the voice of the public of safety and protection. So that’s great, oh, how do they do that? As the world is learning about who Monarch is, our characters are learning about who Monarch is. You’re right where our characters are, as much as they know and can share their confusion or their curiosity. And then meanwhile, super fans can watch the texture of the world get filled out and grown in ways that the movies can’t do because we have a different scale where we’re on the ground with the people rather than up in the sky with the Titans.
Fraction: There was a great window there in that timeline for us to slip in and tell our story.
Matt, what are some qualities that were really important with Monarch to make it a genuine organization? Were there any real organizations that influenced you?
Fraction: At one point, I made an org chart, and I can’t remember if I looked at the CIA or the NSA as a structural thing. It was the Auto Club, I think it was. It was fun to kind of figure that out, but also we had our own internal logic and structure, so it was never really about that. We would have to know, well, who would they call to get X, Y, or Z and have that kind of stuff figured out. But mostly, it was a chance to create the structure that our story could exist within who they are, how they get there, and what they learn when they learn. It was a big part of the fun.
Black: And we liked the idea of making them a real-seeming government organization in that they’re not perfect. The world has changed even from Monarch.
Fraction: There’s a moment in one of the later episodes where they finally come into Monarch, and there are boxes piled in the hallway. It’s like they don’t have enough room to store everything. This is what this place really is.
Black: It’s lived in; it’s textural. It is generational, right? We’ve been here for 70 years. There are boxes in some corners.
Episode 5, “The Way Out,” is a great example of the human story being just as rich as the monsters. How’d you want the people at the heart of the story to compel audiences among the chaos and fun of the monsters?
Fraction: Well, we tried to take a character-first approach. We tried to lead with the characters, not with the monsters. There’s a mystery to be solved. When we first were developing the series, we had a eureka moment where it was this idea that Cate discovers her father had a second family, and then it just broke open the story. Now, there’s a mystery to be solved. There’s a journey that they have to go on that doesn’t involve Godzilla. Ultimately, it will lead to him, but initially, that’s not what it’s about. That’s not what she’s looking for.
Not a bad cast to help tell the story, either.
Fraction: We were blessed with this cast. One of the great pleasures of being a writer is you suddenly see people come in and bring these words to life. You get giddy.
Black: Once we actually were in production, I thought about Mari Yamamoto, who plays [a Monarch founder] Geico, and learning what she’s capable of as a performer, and being able to write into that direct like, oh, look at this. It’s Kurt [Russell]. We’ve watched Kurt movies forever. I know Kurt’s Kurt, right? But to kind of find how deeply gifted and talented our cast is let us make the story even more human by writing about them as people.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is streaming on Apple TV+.
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Featured image: Godzilla in “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,” now streaming on Apple TV+.