The guy, the camera, and the rest of the characters (along with their personal issues) are introduced in the opening scene. They're in the middle of a party in Manhattan when the lights cut out and something explodes in the city. They go to the roof for a better view. What they get is glimpses of something that's about 25 stories high moving between the buildings. That would be the monster.
Sometimes before I write a review, I'll swing by rottentomatoes.com just to make myself feel crazy. I understand that the majority of film critics are morons, but after reading negative reviews of Cloverfield, I feel the need to lecture them on the correct way to watch a movie. A giant monster movie should contain large quantities of horror and awe, in the form of massive amounts of death and property damage and an awesomely huge monster. Check, check. Yet critics complained that the characters weren't interesting, that the dialogue wasn't clever and that not much actually happened in the plot. These things are true to a degree, but here's the thing: Having good characterizations in a giant monster movie is like having a hooker who will kiss you on the mouth. It's a nice bonus but not a requirement.
Most of the dialogue is of the "ohGodohGodohGod" variety, with the cameraman sometimes making the kind of jokes people make when they're under stress. It's madness to me that critics can watch a fantastic depiction of a hell beast battling tanks and then write about how the dialogue didn't meet their standards. Is it not enough that this brave cameraman filmed a monster attack? Does he have to talk like Werner Herzog too?
Another thing I hate about movie critics is the way they try to make their jobs seem more important by finding hidden meanings that aren't actually there. Excerpts: "Might just as well have been called '9/11: The Thrill Ride,' so thoroughly does it trade on our emotions of that disaster"; "clearly a reflection of post-9/11 fears"; "a time capsule of our current fears displaced onto our nightmares"; "treading risky ground by exploiting a global tragedy for thrills." And the grand finale: "Cloverfield takes on war-mongering and its potential consequences with frightening force." I'm not spoiling anything by revealing that Cloverfield does not in any fashion "take on war-mongering," nor does it have anything to do with 9/11.
Or consider this tidbit from the negative review of Rolling Stone's Peter Travers: "I'm not ready to concede that it's impossible to make a monster movie with a meaning that cuts deep and characters we can see ourselves in." Peter, you old fart, see Juno again on your own time. You're supposed to be reviewing Cloverfield, but you can't even watch it right.