Three Acts and a Kaiju
Just like Godzilla blazing a trail of destruction through Tokyo, the film's narrative structure is straightforward and brutally effective. It follows the tried-and-true three-act structure so beloved by scriptwriters. Put in its simplest terms, this structure breaks the story down into three parts:
- The first act provides the audience with the exposition, where the characters, situation, and setting are established.
- The second act deals with the rising action, where the characters try to deal with the situations set up in the first act.
- The third act offers up the conclusion, where the situations are solved and all the plot threads are tied up nice and neat.
Godzilla follows this structure to the letter. The first act introduces the situation with the mysterious disappearances of the ships. We learn about Ogata and Emiko's relationship, and Yamane's study of Godzilla provides us with the information on the threat. We also meet Serizawa and learn that he's got something to hide.
During the second act, the action rises as the buildings fall. Godzilla rampages across Japan, and the Japanese government tries to solve the crisis with everything but the kitchen sink. They try tanks, they try jets, they try electric fences and depth charges. Nothing.
Just when you think they might want to consider the kitchen sink—you never know—we enter the third act. Here, Ogata convinces Serizawa to use his Oxygen Destroyer to destroy Godzilla. Serizawa agrees and the film concludes with Godzilla's defeat at the bottom of the ocean. Godzilla and the Oxygen Destroyer are no longer threats to the peace of Japan, and Ogata and Emiko are free to live happily ever after.
With the three acts completed, the film rolls them credits and prepares for the inevitable sequel.
Exposition! Exposition! Read All About It!
While the film doesn't deviate from the three-act structure broadly speaking, it does present its exposition to the viewer in a unique way. A lot of films follow a single character from beginning to end. In Star Wars, for example, Luke Skywalker is our tour guide through all three acts.
No so with Godzilla.
The film will often leave its main characters to hang out for a spell and then provide information through other creative, world-building means. This is especially true in the first act, where we get information by way of newspaper headlines, news broadcasts, random train commuters, and committee meetings. In lots of these scenes, our main characters aren't even present.
The result is an expanding scope for Godzilla's narrative. By seeing these events through the news or random train commuters, we get the sense that this story is larger than any one character. This isn't Ogata's story or Emiko's or Serizawa's, important as they are to its telling. Instead, this is Japan's story.