FireStarter (2022) Movie Review: The Legacy of a Classic Did Injustice

Mickel Bailey, Student Life Reporter

When adapting a novel into a full-length feature film, a novel that is held with high regard by a large fanbase, it would be essential to take the said novel and treat it with a kind of respect that it deserves, for not only the fanbase but for the author as well, because the author had put in so much time and effort to craft a story and narrative that they wanted to tell and share.

FireStarter (2022) appears to not have done so.

Debuted on May 13, FireStarter (2022) started off on day one with a Rotten Tomato score of 14 percent and with an audience score of 50 percent. Top critics have gone on the website to say such things as “thoroughly bland and uninspired” and “a waste of a talented cast and crew”, the “talented cast” being led by the dreamy-eyed Zac Efron (Andy McGee) and the talented Ryan Kiera Armstrong (Charlie McGee).

So far, FireStarter (2022) has been barraged with overwhelmingly negative reviews and comments by regular moviegoers and die-hard fans alike, being criticized with a tall order of complaints with problems regarding the story, tone, narrative, etc. 

So, through all the negativity, what made this story so well-beloved in the first place? 

The Book

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

This iconic start of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic Fahrenheit 451 was one of the introductions to the opening pages of Stephen King’s Firestarter, while also paying a tribute to iconic horror writer Shirley Jackson, author of The Haunting of Hill House: “In memory of Shirley Jackson, who never needed to raise her voice”. 

Published in September of 1980, Stephen King’s Firestarter novel is a science fiction horror thriller about the survival of the McGee family, both Andy and his daughter Charlie, running away from the secret agents of a mysterious organization only known as the Shop. Both Andy and Charlie possess unique superhuman abilities. Andy has the ability to “Push”, mentally dominating people into seeing things that aren’t really as they seem or controlling them outright and the ability to manipulate certain objects (for example Andy and Charlie steal coins from telephone booths with the “Push”), and Charlie with the abilities such as the “Push”, telepathy, precognition, and, most importantly, pyrokinesis. 

The novel follows both father and daughter as they try to run and hide from the Shop, which is trying to obtain Charlie to study her power and try to use it as a means of weaponizing her power for warfare. 

According to Fantasy Book Review, in 1981, Firestarter was nominated for Best Novel for the British Fantasy Award, the Locus Poll Award, and the Bulrog Award. 

King is recognized for his profound work with his characters, making them feel as if they were real people (with a noticeable Maine touch). Firestarter is regarded as a classic, or “vintage King” among the swell of fans, igniting a blaze of legacy for the story in the works of science fiction, horror thriller, and literacy itself. 

The 1984 Movie

Though not as negatively reviewed as its remake, Firestarter (1984) wasn’t as big of a hit with theaters either. 

Released in May of 1984, Firestarter (1984) was a major flop and was mainly referred to by critics as a “corny and overblown” film. Even the author, Stephen King himself, has gone on record to compare the 84’ film to a “cafeteria mashed potatoes”. 

Even though it wasn’t as widely received by fans as the novel was, Firestarter (1984) is still recognized as one of the most faithful adaptations of King’s work. This is, sadly, the reason that the 84’ film had struggled so much. With film and literacy being different mediums, the director, Mark. L Lester wanted to make Firestarter (1984) a faithful renditioning of King’s classic novel and he had at the cost of it being a begrudgingly boring one.

The overbearing blandness of Lester’s “faithfulness” wasn’t the only problem either. The director for Firestarter (1984) was originally going to be the legendary John Carpenter, known for the highly regarded horror masterpiece The Thing, but due to the bad reception of The Thing, Universal had decided to run with a new director. 

Most offensive of the film’s problems, though, was the portrayal of the insane antagonist, John Rainbird. In the novel, Rainbird is a Native American assassin who is given the task of capturing Charlie and begins to have a particularly strange obsession with her and her pyrokinesis, wanting to kill her and absorb her “god-like” power. The actor who portrays Rainbird is George C. Scott, who is not Native American. There was an attempt to make Scott look the part with a blandly styled ponytail, but it makes the offensive white-washing worse.

Firestarter (1984) had a lot of problems, some ranging from small to offensive, but it is known for its acute accuracy to the source material, and is respected by fans of the novel for doing so.

Pros and Cons of FireStarter (2022)

(This section of the article might contain minor spoilers for the Firestarter story.) 

Still, if it is just a shortlist, the pros of FireStarter (2022) should be considered. 

The special effects of the film were not horrendous. Even though they weren’t practical like the 84’ film’s effects were, they were still mesmerizing, to say the least. The use of fire in the film, although practical, had a certain look that tried to make the story not only scary but beautiful, in its own destructive way. 

Both Zac Efron and Ryan Kiera Armstrong brought a lot to the table when it came to bringing the characters of Andy and Charlie McGee to life. Efron made a convincing worried father figure who was trying to protect his daughter, and Armstrong did a remarkable job being a convincing child with dark abilities. 

That, however, is where the pros end.

One of the main problems with the film was a factor that the author himself was praised for by fans the most: Character. Sure, Andy is a worried father figure who is always looking after Charlie, but that was all he really was. In the movie, there really was never a time to stop and take a breath, and let father and daughter be father and daughter. It was a constant moving in the plot that didn’t really let the characters shine as individuals. Charlie never gets a moment that gives her individuality, no time for her to be a kid. Granted, they are being chased by a secret government, but it could have been solved if the plot had followed the original source material a little closer, there would be more chances to do so.

“Charlie’s actress was really good,” junior Savanna Blair said. “But she really missed the chance to really focus on the heartbreak of [spoilers] murder.”

Changes from the original source material had been a key problem throughout the film, the main one being that the time after the death of a certain character is played down emotionally and doesn’t seem important for the rest of the movie, and was only there for gasps and dramatic effect. Both Andy and Charlie seem almost unfazed by the event a day later; not one tear was shed by either one.

Time is an important tribute to the chase aspect of the novel, where it felt like Andy and Charlie were just waiting for the Shop to find them, and the sad realization that maybe they’ll never have a normal life because they are always running is a key moment of realization for Charlie and Andy, be it a depressing one. That key worry that makes up Charlie and Andy’s life is thrown out in the film, for the most part, and the entire movie takes place in roughly two to three days, whereas in the book, it is roughly a year stretch of running and hiding. The pacing never really lets up and is always a run-to-scene-to-scene.

Then, there is the ending. The ending of FireStarter (2022) greatly differentiates itself from both the source material and the original 84’ movie. A key character who is killed off in the explosive ending of the novel is left alive and has a sudden character change that doesn’t really make sense with the overall story. The change of character and motivation seems to be the majority of problems with the overall negativity towards the movie, if not the heart of it.

FireStarter (2022) was a great misstep for King adaptations and remakes in general and has been a letdown of the year for fans and movie-goers alike.