"Secret Headquarters" stars Owen Wilson, Walker Scobell, Jesse Williams, Keith L. Williams, Momona Tamada, Charles Melton, and Michael Peña. Released on Paramount+ on August 12, 2022, the film is about a young boy who discovers his father's secret lair.
The film was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who also directed films such as "Catfish", "Nerve", "Viral", and "Project Power". Parents often have secrets that are too embarrassing and weird for them to share with their kids. Even the ones that may cost them their trust. But there's one secret a parent keeps that is both super and heroic. To no one's surprise, we had yet another superhero movie invading our summer vacation, courtesy of producer Jerry Bruckheimer from "Top Gun: Maverick" fame and the directing duo behind the "Paranormal Activity" sequels. The catch? It's another family-friendly take on the genre, with Owen Wilson taking the mantle of a superhero. This film was originally planned to be released in theaters this month from Paramount Pictures. However, the studio decided to move it to Paramount+ instead, probably due to its lack of faith in the project. From the looks of its trailers, I can see why the studio made this decision. Regardless, I decided to check it out since I enjoyed Wilson in his recent roles. Also, I haven't grown tired of the superhero genre like most people, believe it or not. With that said, let's see if this latest family-friendly superhero film marks another suitable addition to Paramount+'s list of original content.
The story centers on Charlie Kincaid (Scobell), a young boy living with his mother, Lily (Jessie Mueller), following her divorce from his father, Jack (Wilson). Charlie is constantly distanced from Jack due to his father's work schedule keeping him away from his son. While spending some quality time with Charlie, Jack is once again called away for work, resulting in Charlie hanging out with his best friend Berger (Williams) and the other kids, Maya Monroe (Tamada) and Lizzie (Abby James Witherspoon). They eventually stumble upon Jack's basement, which is actually a secret lair belonging to a superhero called The Guard. After fooling around with the super tech, Charlie and the kids discover that Jack and The Guard are the same. Unfortunately, this information catches the attention of Ansel Argon (Peña), the CEO of Argon Tactical, who plots to use the source of The Guard's power for sinister purposes. As a result, Jack and Charlie will have to reconnect as father and son to defend the world from Ansel's nefarious plan.
There have been plenty of family-friendly superhero movies that are hit and miss lately. I'm not talking about the ones aimed at older families. Instead, I'm referring to films for families with young kids that offer superhero action at a more harmless level. The animated films from Marvel or DC like "Into the Spider-Verse" and "DC League of Super-Pets" successfully delivered fun and intriguing takes on the genre. More importantly, their stories are acceptable for kids and adults to enjoy. On the other hand, the live-action ones didn't come close to reaching those heights, with the prime example being 2006's "Zoom". Yes, I'm talking about the one with Tim Allen teaching a group of kids to be superheroes. It's "X-Men" for children. "Secret Headquarters" was supposed to be the film that would break this unfortunate trend. For starters, it has a good cast and an original superhero that's not based on the source material. So the film should be as fun and super as the movies from Marvel and DC. Unfortunately, it wound up being the opposite: dull and weak.
Given the talent onboard both on the screen and behind it, "Secret Headquarters" should've been the type of movie that's harmless and charming for the young kids and the grown-ups. Instead, it's more of a waiting game to see if anything exciting will happen in this intriguing concept. Spoiler alert, there isn't. The movie is nothing more than a tiring and muddling retread of other films that were done better, mainly the ones involving father-son relationships. It also took inspiration from the superhero genre and the kid-centric adventure movies from years past, including "The Goonies". However, instead of using them to craft a highly entertaining and adventurous experience for families, "Secret Headquarters" used them as its personal autopilot to breeze through its predictable plot, resulting in an extremely bland and awkwardly-paced mess.
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman may not be perfect filmmakers regarding their library, except for their debut in 2010, "Catfish". However, they usually keep their promises of providing some enjoyment to their projects, even if they're not great. Unfortunately, I would have to say that "Secret Headquarters" may be their worse film to date. They have the right idea on how they approach this idea, but their sense of direction for its tone wasn't as refreshing as I hoped. They constantly struggled with whether they wanted it to be a light-hearted kid-centered action adventure, a serious superhero movie, or both. The identity just kind of got lost in the shuffle. It doesn't help that its screenplay robbed the excitement from the movie's mystery and surprises due to its first act, dialogue, and cliched plot points. If the writers fixed the beginning a bit so that the audience who hadn't seen the marketing didn't know the surprise beforehand, it would've made the mystery more believable. But instead, they made them impatiently wait for the kids to find out the truth. This wasn't the best approach for kid-friendly storytelling with something like this.
As mentioned earlier, I was interested in seeing the movie because of its cast, especially Wilson and Peña. While their presence onscreen is welcoming at some points, their performances weren't as super as The Guard's ingenious gadgetry, and their characters were very formulaic. Owen Wilson was okay in his role as Jack Kincaid, although I will admit that he did look nice in his superhero suit. Sadly, Michael Peña didn't do much to impress me as Ansel Argon regarding his personality and humor. It's a shame since Peña was so entertaining in his other works like "Ant-Man". What happened to my Peña? The kid actors weren't that impressive either, with their characters lacking the charisma and comedy that made the previous kid adventure movies so beloved. Walker Scobell was fresh off the heels of his breakout debut in "The Adam Project" back in March, which meant big things to come for the young actor. So it's pretty saddening to see him fail to capitalize on that success with his so-so portrayal of Charlie. It's not terrible, but it's far from great. I would also say that Keith L. Williams (Berger) was the weakest of the bunch, with his acting ranging from unconvincing to lifeless. I was okay with Berger screaming like a girl during a couple of scenes, but that's about it.
If there were a couple of things that made "Secret Headquarters" tolerable for me, I would point out that the visual effects don't look too bad. The CGI almost works well in representing the gadgets' abilities and The Guard's powers, and the suit design is admittedly fine. Some of the visuals weren't groundbreaking, but at other times, they don't suck as bad as one might point out. The movie also had a pretty sweet message about the importance of trust that kids could learn. It's too bad that its mediocre script and direction completely overshadowed the theme it's representing.
Overall, "Secret Headquarters" is an extremely miscalculated misfire of kid-friendly superhero proportions. I always tell myself that there's no such thing as bad ideas, but there is a thing as good ideas with terrible executions. This movie is another example of that theory. The idea it represents was interesting, and the cast and crew onboard were promising. However, the execution was so bare-bones and dull that it makes me a hero for watching it from start to finish. Then again, I've always been a hero for watching bad movies in their entirety, so I shouldn't be that surprised at all. Aside from its visuals, this is one of the more disappointing films to come out on Paramount+ due to its weak cast, lack of direction, formulaic screenplay, and uninteresting characters. In short, the studio made the right call in releasing the movie on Paramount+ to avoid any financial losses from it. Now when can we expect another superhero film from Marvel or DC?