The planet Krypton is destabilized from the mining of the planetary core. Just before the planet explodes, Krypton’s supreme council chief advisor Jor-El infuses the genetics codex into his infant son, Kal-El, the first naturally born Kryptonian child in centuries. Jor-El manages to send Kal-El in a spacecraft toward Earth before being killed by General Zod during an uprising. Kal-El lands in Kansas, where he is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent and named Clark. As he grows older, he develops superhuman powers that Jonathan urges to keep hidden, even refusing Clark’s help years later during a tornado incident where he loses his life. Burdened with guilt over Jonathan’s death, Clark travels the globe hiding under various aliases seeking a purpose in life.
Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane receives an assignment to investigate the discovery of a Kryptonian scout ship in the Canadian Arctic. Clark enters the ship disguised as a worker and learns from its artificial intelligence (AI), modeled after his father Jor-El, that Clark was sent to Earth to guide its people. While following Clark, Lois inadvertently triggers the ship’s security system, and he uses his powers to rescue Lois from its defenses. He wears a uniform provided by the ship’s AI and begins testing his flying abilities. Unable to convince supervisor Perry White to publish an article on the incident, Lois tracks down Clark in Smallville, with the intent of exposing him. However, Lois drops the story upon hearing of Jonathan Kent’s sacrifice, keeping Clark’s identity safe but fueling Perry’s suspicions.
Zod and his crew escape the Phantom Zone, where they were imprisoned for treason for their actions against Krypton. They travel to Earth to turn it into a new Krypton, possessing several terraforming devices salvaged from Kryptonian outposts. Following Clark and Lois’ capture, Zod’s science officer, Jax-Ur, extracts Clark’s genes to create Kryptonian colonists who will build a society based on Zod’s ideals of genetic purity. Using the Jor-El AI to take over the ship, Clark and Lois flee and warn the U.S. military of Zod’s plan, resulting in an explosive confrontation between Clark and Zod’s troops.
Zod deploys his most powerful terraforming device, the World Engine, which severely damages Metropolis and puts humanity’s existence at risk. Given the codename “Superman”, Clark destroys the terraforming platform while the military launches a suicide attack, sending Zod’s troops back to the Phantom Zone. With the ship destroyed and Krypton’s only hope of revival gone, Zod vows to destroy Earth and its inhabitants out of revenge. The two Kryptonians engage in a lengthy battle across Metropolis, which concludes when Clark is forced to kill Zod as he attacks a family in a train station. Clark adopts the moniker “Superman” and persuades the government to let him act independently, under the condition he does not turn against humanity. To gain covert access to dangerous situations, he takes a job under his civilian identity, Clark, as a freelance reporter for the Daily Planet.