How the ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ Editor Juggled Multiple Timelines

TheWrap magazine: For Nona Khodai, the series had to make sense to everyone, not just die hards of the MonsterVerse

Monarch Legacy of Monsters
"Monarch: Legacy of Monsters" (Legendary/Apple TV+)

Editing a primetime drama is never simple, but it’s even less so when you’re toggling between several different timelines and one of your stars is an iconic, 355-foot-tall monster named Godzilla. This is the challenge that befell editor Nona Khodai, who reteamed with her “WandaVision” director Matt Shakman for the first two episodes of “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,” the Apple TV+ series set within Legendary’s MonsterVerse.

As it turns out, Khodai hadn’t actually seen any of the MonsterVerse films before starting on “Monarch.” This could have been a disadvantage, since she was weaving in the Bill Randa character from “Kong: Skull Island,” seen in the first episode both as he appeared in that film (played once again by John Goodman) and as a younger man (played by Anders Holm) starting out with the monster-hunting organization Monarch.

Wyatt Russell, Mari Yamamoto and Anders Holm in “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.” (Apple TV+)

Khodai watched the films but used her initial lack of fluency in the MonsterVerse to make sure she was telling the story as clearly as possible. “For me, it was great, because it helped me to think, OK, if I had never watched these films, how would it feel?” she said. “And luckily the script was immediately intense. You drop into the world of Skull Island and we go forward.” 

Harder still was introducing the modern-day characters. (The bulk of the action takes place immediately following the events of 2014’s “Godzilla,” which introduced Monarch.) “You don’t know who they are,” Khodai said. “And it’s all in Japanese at first, too. That was a challenge.”

We’re introduced to two half-siblings (played by “Shōgun” breakout Anna Sawai and newcomer Ren Watabe), who come together after the death of their father, a high-ranking Monarch operative. Kurt Russell plays Lee Shaw, a mysterious former Monarch employee who helps them on their quest.

Introducing these characters also meant more shaping in the editing bay. Since this was Watabe’s first big job, Khodai took care to make sure he shined. And for Cate, Sawai’s character, early test audiences found her — sexist double standard alert — “nagging.” So she focused on showing Cate as a complex, three-dimensional person. Khodai also had to establish the group of Monarch agents in the past (including the younger version of Lee, played by Russell’s real-life son Wyatt Russell) and what all those characters meant to each other — especially since these relationships ripple forward and impact our modern-day characters.

Khodai tried to stay away from “hokey” transitions with showy match-cuts that emphasize the passage of time. “Sometimes you just have to make cuts and it feels more real in that sense,” Khodai said. “And you hope that people understand. At first we didn’t want to tell the audience that we were going into the past, and that was a point of contention.” Instead of identifying the dates for various sequences, they planned to cut back and forth, leaving it up to the audience to recognize timelines through clothing and technology. But it proved too confusing, so timeline cards were inserted.

Kurt Russell Monarch
Kurt Russell in “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” (Apple TV+/Legendary)

To establish the present-day material, Khodai relied on the visual effects team to insert banners and signs advertising Godzilla Protection “all over Japan,” she said. “It feels like today’s world, like this could really happen.”

It wasn’t until after she had finished working on “Monarch” that she realized what a big deal the MonsterVerse was. She checked on forums and saw how invested people were in the show. “Going into any kind of IP is really challenging,” Khodai said. “You just don’t want to disappoint anybody.” The discrepancy in budgets between blockbuster movies and TV programs was also tricky. “What we can do in a TV show is not the same as what we can do in a movie,” she said. But by embracing the limitations, she and the “Monarch” team made a Godzilla project where the King of the Monsters doesn’t show up much, but it doesn’t matter because you’re so invested in the human characters.

This story first ran in the Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

Gary Oldman photographed by Molly Matalon for TheWrap
Gary Oldman photographed by Molly Matalon for TheWrap


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