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'Firestarter' (2022) Movie Review

by Will Lasley 2 months ago in movie review
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Burn This Way

In this new film adaptation of the 1980 novel by Stephen King, Andy and Vicky McGee (Zac Efron and Sydney Lemmon) are former government test subjects with superhuman psychic powers. Their daughter, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), also possesses incredible abilities, specifically the ability to create fire with her mind. As she struggles to hone her abilities, they are forced to go on the run, as very powerful people are after her and want to bring her back to the facility that once tortured her parents.

Back in 1984, another film adaptation was made starring Drew Barrymore, David Keith, and George C. Scott as one of the main villains, Rainbird. It's not perfect, but it's definitely worth your time, especially for Scott's performance and the awesome finale. While I have not read the original novel, I have seen the original movie, and I am led to believe it is pretty accurate to the book. This new movie is just okay. I feel like it's getting way too much hate from critics and audiences right now, but it definitely isn't great (although the original had its fair share of flaws, too). One advantage this film has over its predecessor is that it's willing to get a little bit more disturbing, and I felt like it made Charlie more of a threat, especially given their approach to her character. We delve a little bit more into Charlie's home life and early childhood, and this lets us get a better, more detailed idea of how her powers work. There's an emotional side from her that we didn't get quite as much of in the '84 film. The earlier movie didn't focus nearly as much on her pain and instability, and I really liked that about this one. This is mostly given to us in the first half of the film, which is fairly solid. It isn't until the back half that it starts to go downhill. But even then, the film does get much more gruesome than one might expect, and the violence is incredibly effective.

Ryan Kiera Armstrong does an outstanding job in her first leading role. Like I said, the movie focuses a lot on Charlie's emotional battle and struggle to control her abilities. She deals with a lot of trauma, and Armstrong does an impressive job, especially for being so young. Zac Efron has really been impressing me over the past ten years or so. He started off with High School Musical, but he has significantly improved as an actor (unlike his costar Vanessa Hudgens). He's not Sir Anthony Hopkins or anything, but the fact that he was able to shed that Disney Channel style of acting is commendable in its own right. He's never really played a role this heavy before, and while one can tell he's still getting the hang of it, he's still pretty solid. These two are the ones who really have to carry the movie, and they manage to do so fairly well.

One of the best things about the '84 film was the villain quality. The two main villains were played by Hollywood legends George C. Scott and Martin Sheen. While Sheen was going all out playing an over-the-top, scenery-chewing bad guy, Scott gave a nuanced portrayal of a diabolical assassin who was able to prey on Charlie's naiveté. One of the weakest things about this new movie is that the villains are surprisingly boring. I get that they were trying to put as much emphasis as possible on Charlie, but boring villains can hinder a movie quite a bit. It's not that they're poorly acted. They're just incredibly dull. They also take a far more conventional approach to Rainbird, one of the main antagonists. He's essentially reduced to a generic hitman here, except in this version, they give him psychic powers, as well. I get the impression that they were trying to give him a bit of a redemption arc (which... why?), but it made him far less interesting. At least he was actually played by an Indigenous actor this time. That said, he's also not George C. Scott. But I do have to give credit to Kurtwood Smith as Dr. Wanless, who is obviously incredibly entertaining. It's essentially just a cameo, but it's a highlight of the film. especially as a massive RoboCop fan.

The finale of Firestarter '22 is a bit more brutal than that of the '84 film, but it also feels morally inconsistent with the first hour of the movie. Was it cool? Hell yes. But it didn't really seem true to the rest of it. And while it did give us a pretty potent emotional moment between Charlie and Andy, it also suffers from the villains being so bland this time around. The final moment of the film also feels like a complete 180 from Charlie as a character. I don't know if it was done just for the sake of being different (like the mediocre Pet Sematary remake), or if they were attempting to set up for a sequel, but it just didn't quite work for me. But again, the carnage preceding this was pretty entertaining, so I couldn't be too upset. The best part of the film, however, is the score. It was composed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies. Obviously, John Carpenter is a legend, and Cody (his son) and Davies were his co-composers for the new Halloween trilogy. As would be expected, this team absolutely delivers, and their exquisite score manages to elevate certain scenes that would be otherwise fairly pedestrian. It's also an interesting coincidence, as Carpenter was originally going to direct the '84 film. I wonder if some of this music was held over from that.

The new Firestarter doesn't shy away from violence, and it sets up Ryan Kiera Armstrong as a new potential star, but it just doesn't succeed as a complete work. Efron shows a great deal of growth from his Disney Channel days, but having only two interesting characters isn't enough to make the film emotionally engaging. It's got enough fun moments to warrant a casual viewing, and there are certainly worse Stephen King adaptations, but it definitely isn't one of the better ones, either.

SCORE: 3/5

TRIGGER WARNING: Child abuse

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About the author

Will Lasley

I’m an actor and director of stage and screen (mostly nonprofessionally so far). But I also dabble in standup, and on this site, horror movie criticism. I’m just a guy who loves horror movies, and I like to share that love with the world.

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