Movies like Spy Kids and Catch That Kid, which focus on young children, have a difficult task. Too much into the kid adventure without adding enough substance, and the film just becomes something adults put on in the background. Too much into the adult stuff, however, and the film risks being out of touch with the intended audience.
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, whose work together includes Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3, have managed to create a terrific kid-friendly film. The essence of Secret Headquarters remains its kid heroes and their close familial bonds.
[Ed. note: This review contains minor setup spoilers for Secret Headquarters.]
Jack Kincaid (Owen Wilson) discovers an extraterrestrial energy source, which bonds with him ten years later. He and his wife have divorced, and he only sees his son, Charlie (Walker Scobell), during parenting visits, which he often cancels when a superhero-related event arises. Charlie, however, decides not to invite his friends over to an empty house for a small party.
Charlie and his friends, including his bestie Berger (Keith L. Williams), social media-savvy Maya (Momona Tamada) stumble upon the Guards' secret headquarters (ba-dum tss! ), in Jacks' home. At first, it's all fun and games as they mess around with the high-tech gadgets. But soon, they find the attention of defense magnate Ansel Argon (Michael Pena), who wants
The Guards' main flaw is the bleak design. From the HUD display as Jack jumps through the sky to the center-of-chest arc light and the armor plating, it's a given to the film's main antagonist, who also feels like a recycled asset. The same can be said for the titular secret headquarters, which is also helpful.
Secret Headquarters inevitably falls into a similar trap as Enola Holmes' Secret Society of Second-Born Royals: It introduces additional themes without ever fully discussing them (In those latter two films, it's Oh man, maybe its bad that Parliament is exclusively ruled by wealthy, white, landowners, but were not actually going to do anything, and Oh huh, I guess I shouldnt rally for my country's monarchy to bedissolved, now that I've patched things up with my sister!)
Argon argues that one person should not be responsible for salvaging the whole world. Early on, it is established that he is mostly stating that he wants to manipulate other people, and his primary concern is making a profit. Thankfully, the film primarily centers on the disintegrating relationship between Jack and Charlie, which makes the film relatable even if none of the people watching has secretly superpowered dads.
Charlie continues to struggle with his mixed feelings about his father's secret identity while without Jack around, and that ultimately becomes the film's strongest feature. The children all have fairly well-rounded personalities that work well together. Lizzie, in particular, may easily fall into mean, popular-girl tropes, but she excels at hiding in the movies.
Secret Headquarters shines when it comes to children's superpowered gadgets. When it narrows the focus to Charlie's father's disagreement, it stands out from other films in the kids discover superpowers and super-gadgets subgenre.
On August 12, Secret Headquarters will be available on Paramount Plus.