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Bloody Disgusting’s Firestarter review is spoiler-free.
The Stephen King renaissance continues with a modern adaptation of his 1980 novel, Firestarter. Considering the lackluster response to the 1984 adaptation, it’s likely long overdue. But the real question is whether there’s any thematic depth or storytelling to mine amidst superhero cinema’s current oversaturation and popularity. While The Vigil director Keith Thomas does get Firestarter off to an energetic and engaging start, this reimaging ultimately fails to ignite.
The exposition of how couple Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) gained supernatural abilities, courtesy of an experiment, gets relayed over the opening credits. One nightmare sequence later, Firestarter jumps a decade ahead, where Andy and Vicky attempt to raise their gifted daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) and avoid detection by the federal agency that would reclaim them. As if being perpetually on the run isn’t draining enough, Charlie is losing her struggle to repress her mounting powers. Cue an incendiary event that places the family back on the agency’s radar, putting them all in danger.
Written by Halloween Kills scribe Scott Teems, Firestarter breaks down into two vastly different halves. The first half builds character dynamics and establishes the emotional stakes. Andy and Vicky are doting parents but with two distinctly different approaches to parenting a young child with immense combustible power. Complicating the conflicting ideals are the contrasting yet similar ways their diminished abilities are ill-equipped to support and control Charlie’s tenuous restraint of her emotions, often resulting in catastrophe. Zac Efron brings a lot to his role, doing a lot of heavy lifting in the front half.
Once Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) enters the equation fully, prompting a more action-heavy shift with the family on the run, the script derails. Early explorations of morality and consequences get dropped in favor of pyrotechnics, choppy and bland action sequences, and thinly rendered archetypical baddies in Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben).
It’s all significantly underdeveloped. There’s a clear arc intended for Rainbird, a significant departure from the source material, but Greyeyes is woefully underutilized. While Firestarter wants to make Rainbird an imposing central antagonist, his screen time is far too limited and cringe dialogue too cryptic to grasp motivations and identity fully.
The entire back half gets rushed. It eschews the source material in favor of a streamlined narrative set in a nondescript concrete facility. A central internal struggle gets tidily squared away with a simple montage. Set pieces, major confrontations, emotional payoffs, and the climax come across so haphazardly that none of it lands. The goodwill built up in the front half gets squandered by the strange narrative and stylistic choices.
It results in a disjointed adaptation that entails two very different features at diverging levels of craft. It feels like chunks of story were excised, leaving behind remnants that hint toward something more interesting. Its protagonists fare much stronger, all given a bit more to work with and time to develop them. The antagonists are so blandly and vaguely written that Firestarter collapses quickly once the narrative attempts to widen the scope beyond the family’s cozy bubble. Despite a strong performance by Zac Efron, a few fun charred corpses, John Carpenter‘s superior score, and brisk pacing, Firestarter winds up mirroring Charlie’s story a little too closely. A promising beginning comes unraveled by the desire to burn it all down.
Firestarter releases in theaters and on Peacock on May 13, 2022.