On the brink of destruction by an evil force, an alien race sends nine special children to Earth. Three of these children have already been killed. The fourth (Pettyfer) must now fight for his life, while learning to understand his emerging powers and his love for a human girl (Agron).
Understandably, I Am Number Four has already drawn comparisons to Twilight – both are based on successful teen novels about a loner girl and a stranger with secret powers; both heavily feature a handsome man’s abs – but the similarities are only in the broad sense. Where Twilight’s focus is all about the desperation of all-consuming romance, I Am Number Four is (eventually) more interested in the secret and the possibilities that might present.
In the gravely delivered opening voiceover we learn that an ancient race of aliens has been all but wiped out, with nine surviving children scattered across Earth in the hope they might evade the other big bad aliens, who want to kill them before they develop special powers and cause all kinds of Armageddon-scuppering mischief. After three are murdered, the fourth (Pettyfer) goes into hiding in a small town school and falls for a socially outcast photographer (Glee’s Agron).
This portion of the film – the affection section – is sweet enough but a touch dreary and generic. She grabs his attention with her winsome pictures and independence; he tries his best to be a normal kid while suppressing his growing super powers and staying on the right side of his warrior guardian (the always likeable Timothy Olyphant in a role so poorly written it seems like something personal). The leads are appealing, particularly Glee’s Agron, and, sure, you want them to be together, but shave off a few of the ‘staring at each other to chart rock’ scenes and we’d still get the message and get to the good part much quicker.
Thankfully, the good part is fantastic. The film takes a fairly dramatic tonal shift, entirely for the better, in its last 40 minutes. The introduction of the sixth of the final seven (Teresa Palmer, a whole lot of snark wrapped in skin-tight leather) tramples right over the swooning and turns everything all action-packed and X-Men and brilliant, as Four and Six run merry hell around a high school, testing the limits of their growing abilities against their intergalactic nemeses. It’s not breaking any ground or reinventing anything, but the story strands it unspools in the finale – as yet undiscovered powers; bigger bad guys; new ‘Numbers’ to find across the world – suggest that, if the inevitable sequel builds on the strengths shown here, this has the potential to grow into a terrific, young sci-fi series. As long as nobody feels the need to take it ‘dark’.
If you can make it through the bland schmaltz of the first half you'll be rewarded with a spectacular blast of sustained action and the promise of even better to come. This could be the start of something great.