With a timeline that spans nearly 70 years — if you’re counting both the Japanese and American series, of course — Godzilla provides creatives with a big stomping ground (no pun intended) to tell stories in. Apple TV+’s new live-action series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters makes use of this expansive universe, interweaving storylines set across 60 years of secret history. But where does it fit into the Godzilla franchise as a whole?
In terms of continuity, Legacy of Monsters takes place within the confines of the Legendary MonsterVerse. For this and other American Godzilla projects, parent studio Toho rents out the rights to the character — with conditions, of course. And while the Japanese studio is more friendly (read: not openly hostile) towards Legendary’s creative direction for the franchise compared to past Western attempts, Toho proudly does its own thing within its own live-action and animated Godzilla projects.
As with most long-running franchises, both the American and Japanese Godzillas contradict themselves and each other whenever it’s convenient to do so, bending and backtracking while adding new wrinkles to their respective mythologies. One interesting parallel between the latest Legendary and Toho projects is the decision to go deep into the creature’s origins in the post-WWII era. Beyond that, Godzilla: Minus One and Legacy of Monsters, not unexpectedly, contradict each other completely — or at least stretch any underlying internal logic to its breaking point.
With these two universes at odds with one another, it can be tough to follow in Godzilla's footsteps — as gigantic as they may be. So we've simplified the show’s multiple timelines, tracing the adventures of the monster, and the humans who have devoted their lives to hunting him, from Tokyo to D.C. and back again.
One of the parallel timelines in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters takes place in the 1950s, tracing the establishment of MONARCH from its beginnings as a sort of X-Files of giant monsters — complete with basement office — to the bureaucratic behemoth of 2015.
As we learn in the first two episodes of the series, MONARCH began as a three-person adventure squad, made up of Japanese scientist Dr. Keiko Mura (Mari Yamamoto); Leland “Lee” Shaw (Wyatt Russell), Dr. Mura’s military escort and eventual champion within the U.S. Army; and cryptozoologist William “Bill” Randa (Anders Holm). Lee, Keiko, and Bill meet on a fateful mission to the Philippines in 1952, where they’re confronted by the existence of a brand-new batlike Titan. The creature is still officially unnamed, but Bill refers to it as a “dragon.”
For the next seven years, the trio hop the globe trying to scientifically prove the existence of the Titans before the U.S. military can blow them all to pieces. A key scene in Season 1 is set in 1954 on the Pacific island of Bikini Atoll, which has been part of the Godzilla mythos since the very beginning. In Ishiro Honda’s original film (released in 1954), paleontologist Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) hypothesizes that a nuclear test at Bikini Atoll is what woke Godzilla from his undersea slumber and sent him Tokyo-bound. This idea carries through into the Legendary MonsterVerse: In Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla, it’s revealed that America’s nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll was, in fact, cover for the military’s attempts to kill Godzilla with the nuclear arsenal it developed during World War II — an idea that’s also referenced in Kong: Skull Island.
Where the Legendary and Toho timelines divert is that in the latest Toho movie, Godzilla: Minus One, Godzilla attacks Tokyo in 1947, immediately following another American nuclear test. (This could still have happened at Bikini Atoll; in reality, testing took place on the island between 1946 and 1958.) Then there’s the OG attack in 1954: Could Godzilla have happened without the monster-hunters knowing about it? This is the part that stretches the stated reason — the Japanese and American governments are very good at keeping secrets — beyond credulity, showing that these continuities are indeed separate (and ever-changing).
In the opening sequence of the very first episode, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters takes us to Skull Island, 1973 — the same time and place as the events of Kong: Skull Island. There, John Goodman reprises his role as an older Bill Randa, now a senior official at MONARCH and the leader of the expedition in the 2017 MonsterVerse film. On the show, we see Randa filming an emotional goodbye to his son while fleeing the scene of the Mother Longlegs attack in the film.
“Maybe I can leave something for the future, a legacy, and you’ll realize it was all worth it,” he says — a sort of mission statement for all the absent dads in this series. Randa is saved shortly thereafter by a Mantleclaw, a crablike kaiju that rises from the rocky coast of the island. But his camera, safely encased in a waterproof bag, ends up in the ocean, and is netted and brought above the surface by a Japanese fishing boat early on in episode one.
The main storyline of Legacy of Monsters takes place almost, but not quite, in our present day: When series protagonist Cate Randa (Anna Sawai) arrives in Tokyo searching for clues about her missing father, a border agent stamps her passport with the date April 1, 2015. At the airport, Cate is confronted (and triggered) by security measures designed to protect Japan from a kaiju attack: As it turns out, Cate is a character spun off from a scene in Godzilla (2014) where a busload of schoolchildren on a field trip encounter the King of the Monsters up close while stuck in traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.
In the movie, a bus driver steps on the gas and speeds the screaming, terrified children out of harm’s way. On the show, Cate and her kids are on a different bus on the same bridge, and the attack ends with her watching in horror as her students plunge to their deaths in San Francisco Bay. In the Legendary MonsterVerse, this attack was the world’s first real introduction to M.U.T.O.s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), whose existence the government had been keeping secret since 1954 — the year of the original Godzilla.
Once she gets into the city, a key and an address lead Cate to the apartment where her father’s secret second family has been living, unaware of her existence. Once he recovers from the initial shock, Cate’s half-brother Kentaro (Ren Watabe) convinces her that they need to know what other secrets their dad was hiding. This folds these new characters in with the existing ones: As it turns out, Cate and Kentaro’s dad was a monster hunter himself — not to mention Keiko Mura and Bill Randa’s son. In episode two, this revelation leads them to the 2015 version of Lee Shaw (Kurt Russell), a version of the character who people comment multiple times looks a lot younger than he should. (Russell is 72; the character is said to be “at least” 90.)
The siblings’ adventures throughout the season alongside hacker extraordinaire Kay (Kiersey Clemmons) will set up the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Godzilla V. Kong (2021), filling in plot holes and teasing additional connections that will presumably be explored in a potential season two. Along with plugging the gaps between Legendary’s Godzilla movies, the series also expands the MonsterVerse with new creatures like the insectoid Endoswarmers — the official name for the insectoid creatures our MONARCH crew encounter in Kazakhstan at the end of episode one.
And then there’s the big guy himself, who pops up in some unexpected places far from his usual Pacific Ocean habitat. He shows up there, too, of course. Godzilla gets around.
New episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters premiere Fridays on Apple TV+. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Katie Rife is a freelance writer and film critic based in Chicago.