With the teenage fantasy film franchise about to face a dearth once Harry Potter finally goes one on one with Voldemort, and when the Twilight lovers get to live together as undead beings, something has to be done to fill the void. There were a number of pretenders, so many that even I'm lazy to name but a few recent efforts such as Percy Jackson or Cirque du Freak even. What's amazing with this production effort is that only one book has been released thus far, with one of two planned sequels hitting the shelves only in August this year. So how it all pans out in the novels by Jobie Hughes and James Frey is anyone's guess, but as a film, it contains all the trappings for its intended teenage target audience.
And that means plenty of eye candy characters, out of this world powers, with buddy relationships and romantic ones forged. The film doesn't waste time jumping straight into where the action is in Kenya, where we witness the quick death of Number Three (Greg Townley) and his guardian, and we soon learn that their deaths have to follow a strict sequential order, so if you miss the deaths of Numbers One and Two, hit the trailer because it's there, and not contained in the film. No point regurgitating what's already done, right?
I Am Number Four is just that, an introductory tale to a hopeful franchise to be blessed with some longevity. And with most origin films, this one spent considerable time in establishing the ground rules for discovery of powers, the relationships between characters, all primed for action sequences in between long drawn narratives building up toward that inevitable big bang conclusion which contained everything but the kitchen sink. all nicely choreographed with loads of CG enhancement in a bayhem manner that will make producer Michael Bay so proud with the decimation of a school and its sprawling football pitch.
Simply put, it's like an extended version of Superman, but only for a race called the Loriens having sent nine of their offspring to Earth in order to escape total extermination by another alien race known as the Mogadorians. As they grow up incognito, they find out they have superhuman powers, yet have to be protected and lying in waiting for their true calling like sitting ducks. Being tracked and hunted down one by one by their space enemies is no fun, and Number Four (Alex Pettyfer), also known as John Smith, decide to hold some ground much to the disappointment of guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant, who was a Hit-man once so he knows what he's talking about), since it's not that hard to find him with his penchant of not knowing how to lie low, developing a hunger for earthly education and getting into the periodic scuffles in high school no thanks to attention showered on and being showered upon by his junior and budding photographer Sarah (Dianna Agron).
It's then no surprise that with the parallels to Superman, the screenplay got written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who between them have clocked countless of Smallville episodes, joined by Marti Noxon in adapting the book for the screen, taking certain expected liberties when translating material from one medium to another. Somehow they didn't manage to keep the narrative tight in the beginning, deciding to sprawl it to introduce plenty of bit characters, though for important ones like the sidekick Sam (Callan McAuliffe), little time got devoted to telling his back story properly, as it was deemed more effective in trying to do so in a rather haphazard, impromptu manner.
Like the Twilight films, this one had its fair share of moments in the beginning deeply entrenched into whipping up a boring romance, and to those who prefer the action as promised in the trailer, we'll be looking toward our watches to pass time. D.J. Caruso is certainly no stranger with stories that have teenage protagonists in the fight of their lives against something larger than they can imagine, with his most recent collaborations with Shia LeBeouf being case in point in Disturbia and Eagle Eye, and with strong alpha-female type characters to boot too supporting by the side, here with Teresa Palmer doing an about turn from her damsel in distress type of role in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, to being one ass- kicking alien in Number Six, obviously having reached her power puberty before Number Four.
The villains don't really pose much of a threat besides looking and behaving mean, and it's a little bewildering why a race without powers and who uses space aged guns and winged creatures can defeat a race with magical guardians, maybe perhaps through sheer overpowering with numbers. I'm not about to read the book to find out though, nor was it explained about the very sticky sequential order that has to be stuck to. The special effects were top notch however, with the final act turning into a big Star Wars battle with blue and red lasers flying all over the place, and Number Six stealing the show with her more developed powers which include something ripped off from Nightcrawler in X-Men 2, and what I thought was the money shot together with Number Four as they fend off one final big bang. Truly impressive stuff there.
Primed for a follow up film, whether it does get made is the question. I had expected a more compact origin told in one sitting to get it out of the way, but it soon became a slow plod bogged down by uninspired caricatures, with too much left out in the open, and generic gun totting villains who are obviously no match for the powers the heroes possess, making it pretty much a one sided fight. Could have been better, or that I belonged to the wrong demographic target to begin with.