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The Good and Bad of Firestarter (2022)

June 20, 2022 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Firestarter Image Credit: Universal

The Good and Bad of Firestarter 2022

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

Firestarter 2022 is one of those genre flicks that seems to exist solely because it’s based on a popular novel by a popular writer and that it was already made once as a feature film in the 1980’s so people will know going in what it’s essentially about. It’s a movie about a young girl that can set things on fire with her mind. There’s more to the movie that just that, but that’s what people know about the story. So I totally understand why Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions wanted to make a new Firestarter. You’re not going to have to explain all that much about the movie to get people to watch it. I do wish, though, that Universal, Blumhouse, and everyone else involved in the movie made an effort to make something worthwhile and cool instead of a limp, lame, and wholly unsatisfying sci-fi horror movie. There are moments where director Keith Thomas and company seem like they may be trying to make a good movie, but in the end it’s just a disaster.

A complete and total disaster.

And so, without any further what have you, what’s good and what’s bad about Firestarter 2022?

Warning: This review contains spoilers

Plot (essentially): Firestarter 2022 follows the same basic plot that was established in the 1984 adaptation, with parents with special abilities (Zac Efron and Sydney Lemon as Andy and Vicky McGee) and their super special daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) on the run from shadowy government interests that want to exploit all of them for their own gain, especially Charlie. When the government sends super assassin Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) after the family all hell breaks loose. A chase ensues, there are moments of supernatural violence, and we see various people get set on fire by Charlie.

The Good

Another terrific John Carpenter score: John Carpenter, who was set to direct Firestarter back in the early 1980’s before being replaced by Mark L. Lester (Carpenter was fired after the box office bomb that was his adaptation of The Thing in 1982), provides yet another badass movie score along with his frequent musical collaborators, son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel A. Davies. Much like their music for Halloween 2018 and Halloween Kills, it’s one of the few reasons to even bother watching the movie. The score is moody and weird and has that synthy menace that so many genre flicks want to have but too often fail to deliver on. Carpenter, Carpenter, and Davies also deliver big time on creating a theme for the movie, which can be heard over the end credits. It would be worth seeing Firestarter 2022 in a movie theater just to hear the end credits theme with a top notch movie theater sound system. Of course, loads of people around the world have home entertainment systems that are just as good (or better) than a movie theater, so maybe you don’t have to go see the movie just to hear the music. It is a reason to do it, though.

Man, Carpenter needs to make more movie music. He really does. I hope we get a soundtrack release for this movie at some point.

Gloria Reuben is so goddamn evil: Reuben plays Captain Hollister, the head of the DSI (Department of Scientific Intelligence), the secret government agency that’s searching for the McGee family. She really doesn’t get to do much in terms of participating in any of the violence that’s unleashed on the McGees beyond sending Rainbird and other assorted agents, but her presence is often unnerving. Part of it has to do with the way she seems to stare through people when talking to them (just go ahead and watch every scene that she’s in. She’s totally committed to being absolutely evil). The voice Reuben uses is also terrifying at times. If the movie had allowed Captain Hollister to shoot a gun or jam a knife into someone or, hell, push a button that shoots a missile or something, I bet that Reuben’s performance would be a bigger deal. Reuben also manages to lean into the idea that audiences are used to seeing her play someone who isn’t evil. When you see her as Captain Hollister you’re not expecting her to be such a bastard.

Kurtwood Smith is in the movie: The great Kurtwood Smith shows up as Dr. Joseph Wanless, the scientist behind the experiment that apparently developed the drug that was administered to Andy and Vicky McGee that then led to their supernatural abilities. He has even less to do in the movie than Reuben, but Smith does get a nice scene where he interacts with Reuben Hollister and discusses how to deal with Charlie and her parents. Wanless realizes that the big experiment was a mistake and that they shouldn’t have done it. Wanless also tries to warn Hollister that Charlie is the most dangerous person in the world. Smith gives the character a gravitas that a lesser actor wouldn’t have been able to deliver and, really, in the big scheme of things, you can never go wrong with having Kurtwood Smith in your movie. Even if the movie ends up being bad you know that Smith is going to kick butt with whatever he’s given to do.

I do have a question, though, about what it is that Smith’s Wanless is doing in that old folk’s home or whatever the hell he’s in. Is he messing around with colored cocaine or something? Or is he just sort of passing the time by doing nothing useful? Does anyone out there get what the heck is going on with him?

The opening titles montage is pretty cool: The movie’s opening titles sequence is a mix of video interviews with test subjects of Lot 6, the experimental drug that helps unleash people’s supernatural abilities and John Carpenter’s music. We see younger versions of Zac Efron’s Andy McGee and Sydney Menmon’s Vicky McGee (I believe they’re in college at the time) and they both do a good job being kid of clueless. The sequence does try to explain the plot of the movie when it comes to the McGee family but it isn’t really successful at doing that (until I read the movie’s plot description on Wikipedia I thought that the sequence was explaining that the scientists involved in the experiment were looking for people that already had supernatural abilities and the drug was supposed to be used by the government to control them. What’s actually happening is the drug is meant to cause people who didn’t have supernatural abilities before taking the drug to start having supernatural abilities). But the opening titles sequence does create a weird sense of dread about what we’re going to see in the movie.

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

The big siege at the end: If you make a movie about a young girl that can set people and things on fire with her mind you better deliver on that idea. Firestarter 2022 doesn’t deliver on that premise like the 1984 adaptation manages to, but it does have a big “young girl sets people and things on fire with her mind” sequence at the very end. We see Charlie set her father Andy on fire in order to get Captain Hollister (Andy actually tells his daughter Charlie to do it), and we also see her set various DSI agents on fire, including agents who try to stop her while wearing hooded fire suits. There’s gore and action and some spectacle, stuff the movie doesn’t really do enough throughout its 94 minute running time.

When the movie decides to do practical effects they’re generally well done: Check out the burn marks on Vicky McGee towards the beginning of the movie. They’re incredibly gross. The movie could have used more of this kind of thing in it.

The Bad

The movie is too small for the story: Firestarter 2022, based solely on its plot, should look and feel like a big deal Hollywood movie in terms of its scope and spectacle. It doesn’t need to have the slick shine that you see on the Marvel movies or anything, but you should get a sense that the moviemakers responsible for the movie tried to make as big of a movie as they possibly could. A movie like Firestarter 2022 should be full of spectacle. Should be. Instead, what we get is a movie that was clearly made on the cheap and no one involved really tried to make it seem like a bigger movie. I know that Blumhouse knows how to make small movies look big. All of the The Purge sequels look gigantic. So why didn’t they try to do the same thing with Firestarter 2022? I don’t get it.

Firestarter 2022 needs bigger fires, bigger explosions, bigger gore, more spectacle. It needs to feel like a big deal. It doesn’t and never really tries. That’s a mistake.

The CGI fire looks like crap: If you’re not going to use “real” fire for your “young girl sets people and things on fire” sequences you should at least find a way to make CGI fire that looks good and scary. Firestarter 2022 apparently doesn’t agree with this idea and instead loads itself up with horrendous looking CGI fire. None of it looks the least bit convincing and comes off as an obvious not very well done special effect. And while I will admit that some of this CGI fire might have looked better in a movie theater on a giant screen I have my doubts that that happened here with Firestarter 2022. I mean, the movie is about a young girl that can set people and things on fire with her mind. That fire needs to look outstanding or at least believable within the context of the movie. Did the people behind Firestarter 2022 just not believe that was necessary?

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

Zac Efron is awful as the father Andy McGhee: And the reason Efron is awful is because he makes no effort to make Andy McGhee sympathetic. Andy McGhee is meant to be a concerned father who, along with his wife, tries to do everything he can to keep his special daughter alive. The McGhee we get in the actual movie is instead a perpetually paranoid douchebag you can’t stand. And that’s before he starts using his psychic mind powers or whatever they’re supposed to be to trick people into doing the things he wants them to do. When he starts doing that, with his little neck creak motion, you actually start to hate him more. Efron also has zero chemistry with either Sydney Lemmon, who plays his wife Vicky, or Ryan Kiera Armstrong, who plays Charlie. It’s almost like Andy isn’t Charlie’s father and is instead just some guy who has special abilities and sort of became Charlie’s father figure/guardian simply because he did. It’s a bad look all around.

The movie never explains what “DSI” is: Is DSI a secret government agency? Does it have something to do with the military? Is it some sort of evil corporate entity that works with the government in order to investigate weird stuff? The movie never explains. In fact, we never find out what DSI stands for (I assume it stands for the “Department of Scientific Intelligence” because that’s what everyone else online seems to believe that’s what DSI stands for but, really, I don’t know). DSI seems to have access to cutting edge technology (the outfit has contact lenses that prevent people with special abilities from manipulating them). But why do they have a building with DSI on the outside of it? Why would a secret government agency advertise to everyone in the world that they have a building with their name on it? And why does it seem like the DSI only has enough people to staff its building and go out and capture the McGee family? Shouldn’t there be tons of scientists and researchers and soldiers involved?

I mean, yes, I get that the DSI is meant to be “The Shop” from King’s fiction (Reuben’s Hollister refers to the DSI as “The Shop” in passing while talking to someone on the phone), but shouldn’t there be like a minute or so of screen time devoted to explaining what the hell this DSI business is all about?

It isn’t clear what DSI is doing at the very beginning of the movie: Now, we know that DSI scientists are interviewing people, mainly college students/young people, and that the DSI wants people to do some sort of drug test for them, but why? What, exactly, is DSI looking for? Is DSI trying to use Lot 6, the drug it wants to test, to find people with special abilities or does it want to give people special abilities somehow by giving them the drug? The movie never explains. But then, hell, if we knew what DSI was from the beginning maybe we wouldn’t have to guess as to what the hell is really going on.

The Rainbird character: Okay, so Rainbird, as I understand him, is a professional assassin who works for the government and has special abilities different from but like the McGee family. DSI apparently experimented on Rainbird and other Native Americans at some point in the past and, as a result, Rainbird developed his special abilities. Rainbird likes being an assassin and likes inflicting violence on people (we see him kill Charlie’s mother and participate in the search for Andy and Charlie when they go on the run). As the movie progresses he starts to develop a moral conscience and turns on DSI and the government and is locked up in a DSI prison. When Charlie lays siege on the DSI compound Rainbird offers himself up to her (a sort of “she deserves her revenge on me for what I did” moment). Charlie doesn’t go through with it, though, and allows Rainbird to live. After killing everyone in the DSI compound, the movie ends with Rainbird and Charlie walking off together into the dark.

What nonsense. And what a wasted opportunity. The movie really wants us to like and sympathize with Rainbird because of what he’s gone through in life and Michael Greyeyes makes a serious effort to be likeable. That’s a mistake, though. A big mistake. If Rainbird is the guy that the DSI and Hollister send after the McGees he should be scary and mean. If he isn’t scary and mean where’s the danger to the McGee family? If he’s a villain but doesn’t act like a villain why is he in the movie?

I mean, if Rainbird was the movie’s main character and the movie was all about him and his moral awakening I would be totally fine with him being likeable while doing terrible things and then growing into a good guy. But Rainbird isn’t the main character. He’s the assassin henchman of the main bad guy. The audience should be scared of him like it should be scared of Hollister. You’re not, though. It’s all just so confusing and ill defined.

Charlie in school: These scenes are annoying as hell, mostly because Charlie’s teacher sees Charlie being bullied by that red haired kid and does absolutely nothing to stop it from happening. It would be one thing if Charlie’s teacher was a jerk and completely oblivious to what’s going on in her classroom, but we see her witnessing the bullying. Why isn’t she intervening on Charlie’s behalf? Charlie and her teacher seem to have a good one-on-one relationship, so it’s hard to believe that she wouldn’t be all over Charlie’s bullies.

And, yes, I’m well aware of teachers and school administrators not stopping bullying in schools in real life, but, again, we see the teacher witnessing the bullying. She doesn’t have her back turned to what’s going on. It just seems like Charlie’s teacher isn’t backing her up because that’s what it says to do in the script.

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

Charlie doesn’t set that red haired kid on fire: I find it hard to believe that after all of the mean-spirited crap that red haired kid puts Charlie through that she doesn’t set him on fire. Or like his hair on fire. Or his backpack on fire. There’s just no way that she wouldn’t exact some sort of revenge on that little bastard. And, yes, I know that Charlie is often confused by her special abilities and that her father is trying to teach her to control herself, but it would have been awesome anyway if she did something to the punk.

If the McGee family is so worried about being found out, why are they living out in the open, in the city and suburbs and whatnot? Why aren’t they living off the grid out in the woods?: You would think that apparently resourceful people like Andy and Vicky could and would set themselves up out in the middle of nowhere, away from people so Charlie could learn to control herself and her abilities. Do they live in a city because Andy needs to do that psychic scam bit as his job? Why does he need a job? Why isn’t he just growing food and whatnot out in the woods? Why isn’t Charlie being home schooled?

The ending is garbage: As I said earlier, the movie ends with Charlie and Rainbird walking off into the dark together, which is a shit way to end the movie. It’s also complete nonsense that Charlie wouldn’t have set Rainbird on fire inside the DSI compound when she had the chance. Yes, Rainbird is a victim, too, of all sorts of government manipulation and that’s terrible, but Rainbird is also the assassin that killed Charlie’s mother. I get that Andy wanted Charlie to show restraint, to control herself because of the awesome power she possesses, but there’s just no way she wouldn’t get revenge on Rainbird.

As for the whole “Rainbird and Charlie walking off into the dark of the night” thing, what sort of crap is that? Are they trying to set up a sequel where Rainbird and Charlie outrun the law? Why would that happen? And why would anyone want to watch that sequel?

The only thing of value in the ending of the movie is the Carpenter theme over the end credits. That’s it.


I don’t really grasp why Firestarter 2022 needed to be made beyond greed. The story is muddled, the characters are ill defined, and the execution in general is sloppy across the board. Universal and Blumhouse should have worked more on the script and come up with a story that makes sense and characters that you care about. Firestarter 2022 fails on just about every level. It is such a chore to sit through and experience. Universal and Blumhouse should have just released the Carpenter soundtrack and shelved the movie. The world would be a better place for it.

I mean, did Universal and Blumhouse think they were making a dark superhero movie? Did they think there’d be a part two with Charlie and Rainbird facing off against more DSI agents and a villain with the same special abilities they have? Did they think there were action figures in the future?

Rating: 4.0/10.0


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article topics :

Firestarter, Bryan Kristopowitz