Recently, the science fiction has been flooded with stories about ordinary people with extraordinary abilities. In the wake of television shows and films such as "Heroes," "The Cape" and "Watchmen," audiences seem to be incredibly intrigued by the idea that relatable and seemingly average individuals, not unlike themselves, gain powers, the likes of which few have even dared to imagine. As a result, the market has been flooded by imitators that drag the entire genre down as a whole.
Although "I Am Number Four" is not about a superhero per se, it does feature a teenage protagonist with a seemingly generic plot. That said, the film makes such good use of its special effects, characters and overall sense of mystery that much of its less-than-original components can be overlooked.
Based on a series of novels by James Frey and Jobie Hughes, who wrote under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore, the film stars Alex Pettyfer ("Stormbreaker") as John Smith, a teenage alien who is one of the nine remaining survivors of his species, the Lorians. Forced into hiding by the evil Mogadorians, John tries to maintain a somewhat normal life as a high school student, despite the urgings of his guardian, Henri, played by Timothy Olyphant ("Live Free or Die Hard"), who wants John to go further into hiding by forgoing school and a social life altogether. After learning that three of the other surviving Lorians have been wiped out by the Mogadorians, John and Henri escape to Paradise, Ohio. At the local high school, John befriends the nerdy Sam Goode, played by Callan McAuliffe ("Flipped"), and attracts the attention of amateur photographer Sara Hart, played by Dianna Agron (TV’s "Glee"), and her ex-boyfriend, Mark James, played by Jake Abel, (TV’s "Supernatural"). As he struggles to maintain a facade of normalcy, John’s Lorian powers begin to manifest, making him all the more noticeable to the Mogadorians. As a result, Henri decides that it would be in their best interest to find the remaining five survivors so they can all work together to defeat their enemies.
The film’s plot is surprisingly deep, despite its somewhat generic-sounding premise. It seems that much of the plot of the original book remains intact, though the film still feels somewhat shallow at points. The story also places a lot of faith into the possibility of a sequel, the likelihood of which cannot be determined at this time. That said, the development of John’s character becomes more interesting as the film goes on and his Lorian powers are just basic enough to make them easy to illustrate, while at the same time mysterious enough to warrant further development and revelation in subsequent films.
The film’s acting is somewhat hit-or-miss; Pettyfer’s portrayal of John starts off as rather bland, though, as the film progresses, he somewhat improves. McAuliffe seems to be perfect as Sam, and while Agron is not necessarily known for her roles as a heroine, her performance as Sara is fairly believable. Teresa Palmer ("The Sorcerer’s Apprentice") plays a role in the later half of the film as the mysterious Number Six, and does so rather well.
Since this is a film produced by Michael Bay, it is no surprise that the special effects are top-notch. John and Number Six’s unique Lorian powers are both visual treats, and many of the action sequences make good use of them.
Although the film is by no means terrible, it still seems rather underwhelming. Perhaps a sequel or two is necessary in order to further develop the plot and characters. However, the plot remains reasonably complex and interesting throughout.