Opening Image: A woman cries in labor as she delivers a baby, new life on a dying planet.
Set-Up: On Krypton, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) tells the council that the planet’s core is collapsing; he wants to use the genetic Codex to ensure the survival of the Kryptonian race, encouraging them to look to the stars and the old planetary outposts as refuge. General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives and attempts a coup, believing that the council has strayed from racial purity. Jor-El escapes to steal the Codex from the Genesis Chamber, where all of Krypton’s DNA is stored. Taking it home, he uploads it into the spaceship harboring his child while his wife programs the ship’s coordinates to fly to a distant planet with a young star. Jor-El also includes a command key that will guide the child. Zod bursts in and attempts to retrieve the Codex, but Jor-El reveals that his child is the first natural Kryptonian birth in centuries, which Zod considers heresy. He kills Jor-El moments before the council’s soldiers capture him. As he and his cohorts are sentenced to the Phantom Zone, Krypton is doomed to its own destruction.
On present-day Earth, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) struggles to find where he belongs. In his thesis world, he is a wanderer without purpose. While working on a fishing boat, he hears a distress call for an oil rig and rescues the workers. Collapsing and floating in the sea, he recalls first experiencing his special powers at a young age, including the intensity of sounds and x-ray vision. He believes he is a freak, finding solace only in the counsel of his mother, Martha (Diane Lane). His memories drift to his early teens in which he saved his classmates from drowning in a school bus accident.
Theme Stated: In the aftermath of the accident, others begin to question what happened. Clark tells his father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) that he only wanted to help, but the elder Kent fears that people will be afraid of what they don’t understand, his special powers seemingly a curse. He reveals the spaceship Clark arrived in and gives him the command key that came with it, telling Clark, “I have to believe you were sent here for a reason,” adding that Clark will one day need to make a choice of whether or not to stand with the human race. This is what Clark will learn in the course of his journey: identity and purpose in an alien world.
Catalyst: The catalyst to Clark’s journey is discovering that he is not from this world. However, he later receives a double bump when he overhears some military personnel talking in a bar about an anomalous object that has been found.
Debate: Clark seeks answers about who he is and where he came from. He finds a way to work with DARPA as they study the anomalous object. Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) arrives to investigate, learning that NASA’s satellites have found something under the ice that is 20,000 years old. As Lois sets out at night to capture photos of the object, she spies Clark and follows him up the mountainside. Clark, having entered the mysterious object, uses the key Jor-El made to activate the ship. A projection of Jor-El’s consciousness appears just as Lois is attacked by a sentry robot. Clark rescues her, revealing his abilities, and then takes the ship.
Break into Two: Clark, now having a Kryptonian ship and answers to his heritage, enters his antithesis world, an upside-down version of life as he knew it.
B Story: As Jor-El’s consciousness appears, Clark will develop a relationship with his Kryptonian father. It is through both paternal relationships that he will learn his purpose and will cement his identity among the human race.
Fun and Games: Clark learns his true name: Kal-El, and begins to have his questions answered, starting with the history and fall of Krypton. For 100,000 years, Krypton set up outposts using terraforming machines to allow civilization to flourish, and artificial population control was introduced with pre-determined societal roles. Jor-El believed in choice, and Clark’s natural birth allowed for that possibility. As a child of both worlds, Clark can inspire the humans to greatness. Jor-El shows Clark a suit with the symbol of the House of El, and Clark emerges from the ship to experience his first flight.
Lois tracks Clark to Smallville and learns how Jonathan sacrificed his life to protect Clark’s identity, and she drops the story. Meanwhile, a UFO is sighted by NORAD, and Zod’s image soon fills TV screens across the world, telling mankind that they are not alone. A Kryptonian lives among them, and if Earth does not turn him over within 24 hours, they will suffer consequences.
Midpoint: As the time clock appears and the stakes are raised, Clark visits a local priest to sort through his struggle. As A Story and B Story cross, Clark recalls the words of his father, “You just have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be, Clark. Because whoever that man is, good character or bad, he’s gonna change the world.” Clark sits framed by an image of Jesus at Gethsemane, symbolic of his internal bad guys closing in.
Bad Guys Close In: Clark turns himself in, preparing to surrender to Zod and his cohorts, who also take Lois aboard the ship. Clark gives Lois the key that holds Jor-El’s consciousness. As Clark struggles to adjust to the ship’s Kryptonian atmosphere, he has a vision in which his nemesis reveals his plans to terraform Earth into Krypton. Meanwhile, Lois is taken away and uses the key, encountering Jor-El, who helps her escape and gives her plans to stop Zod and save Clark.
With the help of Jor-El, Clark arrives back on Earth as Zod searches the Kent farm for the Codex. The two fight, and Zod struggles to adapt to Earth’s atmosphere when his mask is damaged. As the Battle of Smallville rages, the army learns to trust Clark. Back on the ship, one of Zod’s scientists reveals that the Codex is in Clark’s body.
All Is Lost: Zod releases the world engine over the Indian Ocean, connecting it to his ship over Metropolis. As the ship’s Phantom Drive comes online, it connects the two; the whiff of death is in the air as it begins terraforming, increasing Earth’s mass and changing its atmosphere.
Dark Night of the Soul: The ship the infant Clark arrived in also has a Phantom Drive, and the army plans to collide it with Zod’s ship to create a singularity. Meanwhile, Zod finds the ship where Clark first met Jor-El, confronting Jor-El’s consciousness while taking the ship’s Genesis Chamber. He refuses to listen to his old friend, threatening to harvest the Codex from Clark’s bones in another whiff of death. Clark fights against the world engine in the Indian Ocean, pushing through it and destroying it.
Break into Three: Tragedy is temporarily averted, and the army is able to create the singularity, saving Metropolis.
Finale: Clark arrives back at Metropolis, confronting Zod. As A and B Stories meet, he embraces his identity and his choice to side with the humans, destroying the Genesis Chamber, stating that Krypton had its chance. Now in his synthesis world, Clark engages in an epic battle with Zod over Metropolis, killing his nemesis to save the humans.
Final Image: At his father’s grave site, Clark is comforted by Martha that his father saw great things every day in Clark.
As he arrives at the Daily Planet, Clark is greeted by Lois. Disguising himself with thick, black glasses, he chooses his identity as a child of both worlds.