Opening credit sequence rolls over archive footage of nuclear tests in the 1950s. Credit information is redacted with strips of white tape over cut this footage.
Nuclear bombs are going off, military personnel slipping on protective eye-wear, ominous Godzilla spines briefly emerge from beneath the waves.
They are trying to kill Godzilla. It doesn't work and he screams his disapproval.
Cut to 1999: A Monarch helicopter (we saw their name in the credit sequence) glides over a huge excavation in the Philippines. It looks like a mine. Thousands of workers labor in the massive trenches.
As the 'copter lands, a Japanese researcher named Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his British assistant Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) emerge. An American supervisor informs them that they had readings that suggested a uranium find. They loaded heavy equipment onto the site, only for it to collapse into an underground cavern.
They head there to find the skeletonized carcass of a giant creature. It fills the cave as far as the eye can see. Hanging from the cave ceiling appears to be a cocoon of some type, as well as one that looks like it has hatched. Going further into the cave it looks as though some enormous thing has crawled from the cave and torn a wound across the landscape as it headed toward the sea.
In Japan, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is on the phone frantically concerned about seismic activity. He thinks the nuclear power plant he works for should be shut down as a precaution. As an American, he is concerned about ruffling Japanese feathers, but insists on a meeting to air his concerns. His somewhat shy son has made a sign for him. It's his birthday.
His wife, Sandy (Juliette Binoche), hustles the son off to school. She reminds Brody that it's his birthday and his son, Ford, had prepared a surprise. They head off to the plant and he tells the wife to head down into the reactor zone to make sure nothing has been damaged in the shaking.
Once at the plant, Brody makes his case. His superiors think the activity is just aftershocks from the recent Philippines "earthquakes;" Brody says 'no'. Suddenly, a major tremor hits the plant. Brody yells: "We need to shut down now!" Before the process can even begin, another shaker rocks the plant triggering red lights all over the place. The reactor has been breached and Brody's wife is down there.
Brody races downstairs, demanding that the protective shield door be kept on manual override so he can save his wife. Sandy and her team run full tilt trying to stay ahead of the cloud that will doom them. They are making good time until a teammate stumbles and Sandy stops to assist him. The cloud is right behind them.
Meanwhile, Brody has arrived at the door and confirmed that he has control. Upstairs is freaking out. He gets a walkie talkie message that Sandy is done for. Brody is overcome with emotion, literally shaking at the prospect of losing her. She tells him that he needs to shut the door to save the city.
He waits until the last possible moment then seals the door and their fates. But there's one more cruel twist of the knife. Literally, seconds after the door has been sealed Sandy appears with several of her team. Brody weeps as he watches his wife being bathed in the toxic radioactive mist.
At his school, little Ford Brody (CJ Adams) observes the plant's cooling towers collapse. He knows that his parents work there. All his classmates flee outside while watches his entire life collapse into ruin.
Current Day: The adult Lt. Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is returning home after 14 months at sea in the US Navy to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their young son Sam (Carson Bolde).
There's a sweet 'Welcome Home' scene and Ford prepares for some long overdue mommy/daddy time when the phone rings.
Ford learns from someone on the other line that his estranged father, Joe Brody, has been arrested in Japan for trespassing and is being held. Ford has to go get him. Looks like Daddy has to break a promise to his son to "be there in the morning."
In Tokyo, Japan, Ford is obviously a little disgusted at having to bail out his dad. Joe suffered a nervous breakdown after the accident and their relationship is clearly strained. Joe's small apartment looks like a conspiracy theorist's paradise. Pictures and articles paper the walls. Stacks of books and research are everywhere. Clearly dad has gone round the bend.
He's mumbling about echolocation and earthquakes "talking to each other." Out of pity, Ford suggests that his dad come home with him. Joe hasn't seen his grandson in years. He needs a break. Joe, however, is adamant. He needs to know what happened that day. His wife is still buried in the rubble of the "quarantine zone." If he could just get back to his house to retrieve his research.
He doesn't even have a picture of Sandy to cherish. Begrudgingly, Ford decides to help his dad. They head back to the old neighborhood which looks abandoned and overrun. Suddenly, a pack of dogs gambles through the scene. How could that happen in a radioactive wasteland? Joe checks his Geiger counter which shows no radiation at all.