It’s often surprising to remember that out of all the different attempts from different studios to build their own cinematic universes akin to the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the MonsterVerse is the only other one still standing tall. Since kicking off in 2014 with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, the multimedia franchise has launched three more interconnected films – Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and the crossover Godzilla vs. Kong – as well as an animated Skull Island Netflix series and numerous books and comics.
The franchise has had its ups and downs, however, thanks to the success of 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong at both the theatrical box office and at-home streaming, the MonsterVerse is set to carry on for the foreseeable future. And not just on the big screen, but the small screen as well. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters marks the first live-action television series for the MonsterVerse and is set to premiere this November with weekly episodes on Apple TV+.
The MonsterVerse has impressively remained steady and consistent with its lore despite being passed around through numerous writers and filmmakers, and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters promises to dive deeper than ever before into the story of Godzilla, Kong, and the other Titans/Kaiju. The series takes place shortly after the shocking revelation that giant monsters exist in the aftermath of Godzilla’s thunderous battle with the MUTOs in San Francisco (as seen in the 2014 film) and before the earth-shattering events of King of the Monsters.
Audiences follow two different generations of researchers – Cate (Anna Sawai), Kentaro (Ren Watabe), May (Kiersey Clemons), and Army Officer Lee Shaw (Kurt Russell) in the 2010s, and Dr. Keiko (Mari Yamamoto), Bill Randa (Anders Holm), and a younger Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell) in the 1950s. Siblings Cate and Kentaro follow in their father’s footsteps as they go down a dangerous rabbit hole and uncover their family’s connection to the secretive organization known as Monarch. As the viewer goes back and forth between the different time periods, it becomes clear that the world of monsters is more expansive than anyone could have ever imagined.
Created by Chris Black (Severance, Star Trek: Enterprise) and Matt Fraction (Hawkeye), Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is an incredibly ambitious series that spans across multiple continents and timelines, sparing no expense in assembling its cast and making sure the various giant monsters look just as good as they do in the movies. To get things going in the right direction, Matt Shakman was brought in as an executive producer as well as the director of the opening pair of episodes, with the remaining eight to be helmed by other filmmakers, including Andy Goddard, Julian Holmes, Mairzee Almas, and Hiromi Kamata.
Matt Shakman is a renowned television director and producer who is best known for his work on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, having directed over 40 episodes of the long-running sitcom, as well as WandaVision, where he directed all 9 episodes of the Marvel Studios Disney+ miniseries. Other recent credits of his include Game of Thrones, The Boys, Succession, Welcome to Chippendales, and The Consultant. In 2025, Shakman will return to the MCU to direct a new film adaptation of Fantastic Four, helping usher in a new age for the mega-franchise.
Ahead of the premiere of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, we sat down to talk with director Matt Shakman about making such a large-scale project work on the small screen. He discussed his love for Godzilla and the MonsterVerse movies, filming the series on location in Japan, and working with the father-son duo of Kurt and Wyatt Russell.
Exclusive Interview with Director Matt Shakman for Monarch: Legacy of Monsters on Apple TV+
What was your familiarity with the MonsterVerse franchise beforehand?
Matt Shakman: I’m a big fan, I love the movies. I love Gareth’s Godzilla. I love [Jordan Vogt-Roberts’] Kong: Skull Island, I think that’s a tremendously stylish film. I like what Adam Wingard did with Godzilla vs. Kong. I love the scale of them, I love the characters. I’ve loved Godzilla since I was a kid, you know?
Watching the original movie with my dad is one of my fondest memories when I was a child. So the chance to be in this universe – speaking to the Toho side of it from what I watched as a kid, and then speaking to the Legendary MonsterVerse side of it, I’m a fan of both sides. Being able to be involved was super fun as a filmmaker. We went and shot in Japan, we were hosted there by Toho and it was incredible to walk through Toho studios and see these sculptures of Godzilla and murals of Akira Kurosawa. To be there where they shot the original 1954 Godzilla film was really special.
I guess the biggest question is, how do you take these famous big-screen monsters and move them to the small screen?
Matt Shakman: That’s right, that is the challenge. What you can do so well in a movie is tough to do on television. But, also, what you need to do on television to succeed is something that the movies maybe didn’t have to do as much. There were definitely some rich characters and great actors in the MonsterVerse films, but primarily you are focused on Kong, Godzilla, and the other kaiju.
With a television series, you’re going to come back week to week not because of monsters but because of humans – because of characters that you love, that you’re rooting for, and that you care about. That’s what makes a good television show succeed and that’s what we knew we had to do on this. So Matt Fraction and Chris Black, the creators of this show, and the writers that they worked with, were brilliant at creating characters that certainly I connected to as a filmmaker and I think that audiences will connect to as well.
The MonsterVerse has had a mixture of tones throughout the different films. What kind of tone was being aimed for with Monarch: Legacy of Monsters?
Matt Shakman: Yeah, the tone does shift around from film to film. I think we’re probably closest to Gareth’s movie, Godzilla (2014), in terms of the tone. But this is a story about generations, about legacy, right? It’s about mysteries and secrets hidden in the past and about discovering things about yourself that you never knew. So, in that way, it’s a drama. It has an elegant and sophisticated structure that I really appreciate.
And yeah, there are light-hearted moments, sure. There’s a lot of adventure, absolutely. It’s a lot of fun. Kurt Russell brings Kurt Russell energy to everything that he’s in, which is incredibly exciting. And he belongs with Godzilla. I’m glad that they’re finally working together, that’s the way it should be! So, tonally, we were looking for something that was both a generational family drama and also a really exciting, globe-trotting adventure; both of those things side by side. I think there are elements of those in all of the MonsterVerse movies. We owe a lot to Skull Island as well in terms of some of the characters and the continuation of their stories.
A lot of the criticisms you see of this franchise and other Godzilla and monster movies in general is that the human characters aren’t interesting or memorable.
Matt Shakman: I don’t share that opinion about the MonsterVerse movies. I mean, if you just think about Kong: Skull Island – Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston – there are incredible characters in that movie. And they’re very memorable and their stories are unique. One of the things that was most important for us was that when we were doing monster action, it was from the point of view of the humans, that we were telling the story from ground level. We were not flying high in the sky at Godzilla level, which is where I think a lot of the movies exist. We were more interested in “How is this monster event affecting the humans that we love and care about?”.
What would you say was your favorite part of helping put this whole project together?
Matt Shakman: There were so many highlights and they’re all so different because the show really is such an ambitious project. Going to Japan, as I mentioned, and shooting in Tokyo, which is a beautiful culture and an amazing place. Working with a Japanese crew primarily on it was super exciting, and filming on the same streets where some of my favorite movies were made and a lot of the great Godzilla movies. So that was exciting, just to feel like we were absolutely a part of that continuity. This is a show about legacy and we were filming it in a way that was honoring that legacy too. That was exciting, just being able to travel that far to bring that world to life in the right way. It’s very hard to cheat Tokyo anywhere else, you kind of have to go there to be there.
It was really fun to work with Kurt Russell and Wyatt Russell on the same character. I’m a huge fan of both of them, and a long-standing fan of Kurt since I was a kid. Having them come together to create a single character, which I think was a hugely fun opportunity for them, was another highlight. They’ve been offered father and son parts before, but they had never created a character together that they could both play. So that was fun, figuring out, “What’s this guy going to wear? How’s he going to walk? How’s he going to talk?” Everything was a joint decision between them, which was really fun. There’s a brilliant ensemble of actors across the board, which is always, as a director, the biggest pleasure, just being able to collaborate with brilliant actors. It was fun for so many reasons.
Who do you think is the coolest movie monster?
Matt Shakman: (Laughs) I mean, Godzilla if you asked me today. Of course. If you had asked me a few years ago, I might have picked one of Dany’s dragons. You ask me in a year or two, I might pick something from Marvel, you know? But today, absolutely, it’s Godzilla.
Is there any truth to rumors about Fantastic Four casting happening pre-strike?
Matt Shakman: I can’t say too much about casting except there will eventually be an announcement, I promise everybody. I’m excited about all of the passionate fan-casting that’s happening and I appreciate it. I understand it as I’ve loved the characters since I was a kid. I totally get it and I support it. I just can’t answer the question yet.