Nearly 40 years after the release of Mark L. Lester’s Firestarter adaptation, we have a new take on Stephen King’s classic story, this time with Keith Thomas (The Vigil) at the helm. And while this new iteration effectively modernizes some of the concepts and themes at the heart of King’s story and features several killer set pieces that showcase Thomas’ capabilities as a director to boot, where Firestarter (2022) falls short is in its screenplay by Scott Teems that never quite nails the heart of the characters that originally made King’s story so compelling in the first place. Ryan Kiera Armstrong definitely makes for a compelling Charlie McGee this time around—I just wish we were given more reason to root for her character than what we see in this version of Firestarter, resulting in an adaptation that is solid overall, but does feel like it falls short in some ways as well.
In Firestarter, we’re introduced to the aforementioned Charlie McGee and her parents, Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon). We learn through a series of flashbacks that while in college, both Andy and Vicky met when they participated in the same medical experiment where they were given the drug known as Lot Six, and they developed their own heightened powers during the scientific study. Eventually, Andy and Vicky marry, have their daughter Charlie, and spend their days now worrying about their pre-teen’s pyrokinesis abilities and hiding away from a sinister government agency who will stop at nothing to turn Charlie into their own lab rat and even possibly utilize Charlie’s abilities for their own organization’s gain. But once the McGees are discovered, an assassin by the name of Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) is sent to track them down, forcing Andy to take his daughter on the lam all while trying to help Charlie understand her powers and how to harness them properly.
Along the way, we’re also introduced to other players in the Firestarter story, including “Cap” Hollister (Gloria Reuben), the operative leader who has been on the hunt for the McGees for quite some time, Lot Six experiment developer Dr. Wanless (Kurtwood Smith), and the kindly Irv Manders (John Beasley), who offers Andy and Charlie a ride out of harm’s way, and more.
As mentioned, there is a lot to like about Firestarter (2022). There is quite a bit of practical fire effects featured throughout the film (with CG fire effects only being used to enhance the existing fire in many cases), which is pretty darned impressive considering just how these set pieces are laid out in the first place. I think that Keith Thomas, along with cinematographer Karim Hussain, do an excellent job of collaborating on the staging of some of the adaptation’s key set pieces in a way that feels exciting to watch as a viewer, and Thomas sets an oppressive mood early on in Firestarter that never really lets up until the very end. Firestarter also features an absolutely phenomenal original score from John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies that does a fantastic job of amping up what you see on the screen throughout the film as well.
The one thing that didn’t really work that much for me in Firestarter (2022) was the script, unfortunately. It’s not necessarily that Teems’ adaptation deviates from a number of elements that are featured throughout King’s original story, as I am someone who is of the opinion that if you’re going to do a new adaptation of a book that’s already been made into a movie before, then I think trying to bring something new to the table is what you really should be doing. I just think that the new stuff that we see in this version of Firestarter comes with a price, and it seems like that price involves stripping away a great deal of character development and not giving viewers a ton of emotionally driven character beats to invest in, either.
There’s this sense of urgency felt throughout this Firestarter from the very start, but as a result, that means we never really get a chance to settle in with the McGees at all, which feels like a missed opportunity here considering the cast involved. It’s hard to explain just what I mean without getting into spoilers, but there are moments when Charlie loses control of her pyrokinetic abilities that have some rather grave implications for the other characters involved, but we never feel the emotional fallout from those moments, and it just seems like the script is ready to get us to the next moment before we can even process what just unfolded in front of us on the screen.
It also feels like the focus on Charlie’s journey in Firestarter (2022) is more about her being established as something of an emerging superhero rather than exploring how this exceptional young girl is constantly struggling with all these huge life-or-death stakes that are looming over her as she just tries to be a normal kid. Armstrong does a great job with all of her big scenes in Firestarter, too, but I do wish we had more time with the young actress because I would have loved to see her get even more opportunities to really explore the gamut of what her character goes through during some big moments in this story. And if the higher-ups involved with this iteration of Firestarter are indeed taking a superhero-like approach to Charlie in hopes of having more movies with her at the center of it, I’d absolutely be game to see Armstrong reprise her role again.
Movie Score: 3/5