Firestarter Review – IGN
Firestarter premieres Friday, May 13 in both theaters and streaming on Peacock.
Blumhouse’s new adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal scarebook Firestarter, from 1980, features strong performances from Zac “He Plays Dads Now” Efron and young Ryan Kiera Armstrong, but the finished product is a bland retelling of a story that, here in 2022, needed an extra jolt to bring it back and have it stand out among today’s super-powered rabble.
Not only are superhero stories now the meat and potatoes of our mainstream multiplex fabric, but “youths discovering powers” is its own overflowing well. Firestarter, as a King story, is naturally more wicked than other kid fables, which tend to lean toward family-friendly adventure, but remaking this story without adding anything particularly new or making it scarier just leaves it defenseless, and feeling wholly unoriginal in the mutant landscape despite it being one of the first stories of its kind.
Armstrong stars as Charlie McGee, a girl born with tremendous powers thanks to the government experiments inflicted on her parents (which gave them various telepathic/telekinetic abilities). On the run from “The Shop,” the shadowy scientific think tank that lab-ratted them, Charlie’s abilities are far more dangerous than that of her mom and dad, as she not only has both of their gifts but also the skill of incineration. She can shoot out massive swaths of flame or, you know, just heat up one spot until someone combusts. Armstrong is very good in the role, not only displaying deep emotion but also syncing up well with Charlie’s use of powers, rage face, and the CGI effects involved with them.
Efron is also a strong part of this story, as Charlie’s father Andy, who has the power to “push” people’s minds, getting them to bend to his will. Efron and Armstrong are believable as a loving duo and the film’s best moments happen when they’re together, but the story itself is thin and underserves them. So despite Firestarter’s shortcomings, which also affect Gloria Reuben and Kurtwood Smith, who get the “Oh my God, it’s Jason Bourne”-style baddie roles, Efron and Armstrong make their mark with a good dramatic showing.
On the bad guy front, Michael Greyeyes isn’t as short-sheeted as the others, but he still feels like a ghost of a presence rather than a full character. As Rainbird, a super-powered fixer sent after Charlie (played by George C. Scott in the 1984 film), Greyeyes gets a few notable showdown moments, but the end resolution for his character makes little sense and only adds yet another meandering, confusing thing to this tale.
One shift to the story here — a gentle remodeling of the book — is giving more screen time to Vicky McGee, Charlie’s mom (played by Sydney Lemmon). Instead of appearing only in flashbacks, we see Vicky and Andy co-parenting, with Vicky being the advocate for teaching Charlie how to use her powers. This slight changeup wasn’t the refresher the story needed to pop but it does give us one of the movie’s better confrontations when Rainbird comes calling.
Okay, I’ve made it this far without fire puns but as I’m only human… Firestarter has no visual spark. The story feels muted and dry — as Charlie and Andy’s life on the lam seems to last one day (and saga-feeling elements are crunched down into something that feels more like a short story) — and the look of the film is washed out, with the appeal and vibe of a TV movie. It’s such an eye-yawn that one can’t wait for the barbecue brutality to unfold at the end, but then even that feels stilted. Firestarter is 90 minutes of waiting for the water to run hot, but it never passes lukewarm.