Movies like Spy Kids and Catch That Kid, which feature children at the forefront of big blockbuster-style plots, have a challenging task. Too much into the kid adventure without adding enough substance, and the film just becomes something adults play in the background. Too much into the adult stuff, though, and the film risks becoming out of touch with the intended audience.
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who co-direct Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3, have managed to create a compelling kid-friendly film genre. While the visuals might be improved, and the plot may be slowed down as the adults face off against each other, Secret Headquarters's main focus remains on its kid heroes and its important family bond.
[Ed. note: This review contains slight setup spoilers for Secret Headquarters.]
Secret Headquarters starts off with ordinary dad Jack Kincaid (Owen Wilson) discovering an extraterrestrial energy source that immediately bonds with him. Despite his marriage, Jack protects the Earth as a mysterious superhero known as the Guard, and he only sees his son, Charlie (Walker Scobell), during custody visits which he often cancels when a superhero-related event occurs. Charlie, though, stays at his dad's house for a few days.
Charlie and his friends, including his bestie Berger (Keith L. Williams), social media savvy Maya (Momona Tamada), stumble upon the Guards' secret headquarters in Jacks' home. At first, it's all fun and games as they play with the high-tech gadgets. But soon, they meet the attention of defense magnate Ansel Argon (Michael Pena).
The biggest flaw in the film is the lack of a good design. From the HUD display as Jack flies through the sky, through the armor plating, to the titular secret headquarters, it's almost a given out resource. However, the action scenes don't help until the fight switches to Charlies middle school on the night of the big school dance.
Secret Headquarters almost falls into a similar trap as Enola Holmes' Secret Society of Second-Born Royals: It introduces more serious topics without ever fully addressing them (in those latter two films, it's Oh man, maybe its bad that Parliament is only ruled by wealthy, white, landowners), but were not really planning anything, and Oh huh, I shouldn't rally for my country's monarchy to be disdissolved, now that I've patched things up with my sister!)
In Secret Headquarters, Argon asserts that one person shouldnt be able to save the whole world. He is mostly stating that he is able to manipulate other people, and his primary concern is making a profit. The film's main focus is on the tense relationship between Jack and Charlie, which allows the story to be relatable even if none of the people watching have secretly superpowered dads.
Charlie continues to wrestle with his mixed feelings about his father's secret identity as a result of Jack's absence. That's where the film ends up being the film's strongest aspect. The children all have fairly enjoyable, well-rounded personalities that work well together. Lizzie, in particular, might easily fall into mean, popular-girl tropes, but she stays strong when the action becomes more focused on the adults rather than the kids.
When Secret Headquarters engages kids in superpowered gadgets, it shines. When it narrows the focus to the conflict between Charlie and his dad, and the toll that being a masked vigilante can wreak havoc on family life, it stands out from other entries in the kids discover superpowers and super-gadgets subgenre. It could use a little less emphasis on the serious adult issues of it all, but when Joost and Schulman narrow the plot to smaller stakes and si
Secret Headquarters will be available on Paramount Plus on August 12th.