Monarch: Legacy of Monsters expands the MonsterVerse around Godzilla and King Kong. In this interview, director and producer Matt Shakman talks about the start of the elaborate blockbuster series
Burning fields, suffering faces and a gigantic monster that brings nothing but destruction. No, we’re not talking about Godzilla, but the dragon Drogon from Game of Thrones. With The Spoils of War (season 7, episode 4), Matt Shakman has shot one of the most important episodes in the blockbuster development of series. Now he is bringing one of the biggest cinema franchises to television: the MonsterVerse with Godzilla and King Kong
How do you pack the concentrated punch of the MonsterVerse into a series? Interview with Monarch director Matt Shakman
The MonsterVerse was founded in 2014 by Godzilla, which barely showed its hero, but impressed with the apocalyptic images of a disaster movie. This was followed three years later by Kong: Skull Island, a war film à la Apocalypse Now, before unrestrained orgies of destruction such as Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Godzilla vs Kong (2021) defined the MonsterVerse in cinema.
How do you bring these different films together in a series? I spoke to Matt Shakman about this in an interview. He brought the Marvel universe to Disney+ with WandaVision. Now he is accomplishing the same feat with the MonsterVerse on Apple TV+. Shakman directed the first two episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters and also served as an executive producer on the series.
Moviepilot: I find the MonverVerse very exciting because each movie has its own character. How did you manage to combine the different approaches in one series?
Matt Shakman: The MonsterVerse involves a lot of great filmmakers who inspire me and some of whom I’m even friends with. What Jordan Vogt-Roberts did with Skull Island was great. The same goes for Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. With the series, we focused on the human perspective. Most of the films from the MonsterVerse exist on this Godzilla level and tell of epic battles in the stratosphere. We wanted to find out what it’s like for the humans watching these battles from the ground. The MonsterVerse films were an important guide for the series, but we’ve shifted the focus.
Here you can watch the trailer for Monarch: Legacy of Monsters:
The very first episode takes us back to two familiar places: the prologue of Skull Island and the final battle of Godzilla. How did you interweave the scenes in the new series with the old films?
I took a close look at how the films were shot and how they look, especially the sequence on the Golden Gate Bridge. It directly interferes with Godzilla from 2014. We’re telling a different story, but it takes place on the bridge at the same time. I wanted it to feel like we were part of the movie at that moment. We just happened to be looking at a different event. To make it all fit, we looked closely at the staging [of Godzilla], down to tiny details of where the jets and missiles are in a scene.
Did you use footage that Edwards had already shot for Godzilla? Or are these all new shots that were created especially for the series?
We shot everything ourselves, at least for the sequence that takes place on the Golden Gate Bridge. No material from any of the previous films was used. The only time I used existing footage was for the prologue of the first episode. I incorporated some footage that Jordan [Vogt-Roberts] shot at Skull Island. So I was able to create a smooth transition before we see John Goodman for the first time in the series.
Did the old Godzilla movies have an influence on the series?
Besides the MonsterVerse, we watched the wonderful Tōhō movies, including Shin Godzilla, which was released just a few years ago. We tried to soak up as much Godzilla history as possible. In addition, there are countless photographs as a reference for the 1950s – not just images from films, but from photographers. I like to put together collections of photos like this for my projects to understand what a different era looked and felt like.
What was the point for you when you said that you absolutely wanted to be part of the project?
I read the script for the pilot episode by Chris Black and Matt Fraction and was completely blown away by the ambition of the project. The story is told on several time levels. We have many different characters and therefore many different perspectives. I immediately fell in love with some of the characters and empathized with them on an emotional level. That’s the most important thing for me when I’m deciding what to watch – and even more so when I’m deciding what to shoot.
One casting in particular stands out: Kurt Russell and Wyatt Russell – father and son – play the same character in different time periods. Was this planned from the start or did the casting come about by chance?
I honestly don’t know who came up with the idea. In any case, when I came on board, people were already talking about it. I immediately said: “That’s a great idea! We absolutely have to do that!” We then had a meeting with Kurt [Russell] and Wyatt [Russell] and pitched the concept of the show to them. We were so lucky that they said yes.
We mustn’t forget one important star: Godzilla. How did you bring this iconic monster from the big screen to TV without it losing its power?
Series are a place of wonder – we saw that with Game of Thrones. Many series now feel like big screen adventures. Nevertheless, they differ from films in many ways, such as their running time. We can tell a story over a much longer period of time. You can return to your favorite characters from week to week. That’s why we tell Monarch from the perspective of the people. Of course, we knew from the start that Godzilla and other monsters would appear. But the monsters only become exciting when they cross paths with humans. That’s why people tune in. We didn’t try to outdo the movies. Instead, we wanted to combine the MonsterVerse with what series do best: tell a human story.
When Godzilla was released in 2014, there was a debate about how much of a monster should be shown in a movie. Where do you stand in this debate?
In the end, this question comes down to the characters. We show just as much of the monsters as is necessary for the story. In the pilot episode, monsters appear in moments that will change the lives of many people. That’s what the series is about: intergenerational trauma. The monsters are an important – a huge! – part of the story, but in direct comparison to the story of the humans, they are only secondary.
It all sounds very much as if you’re using the monsters primarily as a metaphor too.
Yes, movie monsters have been used as metaphors since their creation. Back then, Godzilla was a response to the atomic age. It is also a metaphor for everything that is happening to the environment. That’s one of the reasons why the character has captivated audiences for decades. It’s simply a good character – and it’s extremely entertaining. That’s why I fell in love with Godzilla as a child. Now I’m very proud to be a part of his story myself.
Do you have a favorite film from the Godzilla series?
The original, the first one [Godzilla from 1954].