Owen Wilson is not a superhero, but a father in Secret Headquarters

Owen Wilson is not a superhero, but a father in Secret Headquarters ...

Movies such as Spy Kids and Catch That Kid, which emphasize kids in large action sequences, have a difficult task. Too much into the kid part without adding enough substance, and the film just becomes something adults forget about in the background. Too much into the adult stuff, however, and the film risks becoming out of touch with the intended audience.

The directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (whose work together includes Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3 and 4) have managed to bring a worthy addition to the kid-friendly movie genre. The core of Secret Headquarters is still its kid heroes and its familial connection.

[Ed. note: This review contains minor setup spoilers for Secret Headquarters.]

Jack Kincaid (Owen Wilson) stumbles upon an extraterrestrial energy source that bonds with him ten years later. He protects the Earth as a mysterious superhero known as the Guard, but he only sees his son, Charlie (Walker Scobell), during custody visits, which he frequently cancels when a superhero-related event arises. Charlie, though, chooses not to invite his friends over to an empty house for a small party.

Charlie and his friends find the Guards' secret compound (ba-dum tss!) in Jacks' house, despite their bestie Berger (Keith L. Williams), and rebellious Maya (Momona Tamada) accidentally stumble upon the Guards' secret headquarters (ba-dum tss!)

The main flaw in the film is the bland design. From the HUD display as Jack flies across the sky to the center-of-chest arc light and the armor plating, the whole movie's visual aesthetic draws inspiration from the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Iron Man. The same can be said for the titular secret headquarters, which also feels like a recycled asset.

Secret Headquarters almost falls into a similar trap as Enola Holmes' Secret Society of Second-Born Royals: It introduces heavier themes 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 actually planning anything, and Oh huh, I guess I shouldnt rally for my country's monarchy to be dissolved, now that I've patched things up with my sister!)

Argon argues that one person should not be able to save the entire world. But it's made clear early on that he's mostly saying that to manipulate other people, and his primary concern is making a profit. Thankfully, the film focuses on the broken relationship between Jack and Charlie, which allows the film to be relatable even if none of the people watching have secretly superpowered fathers.

Charlie continues to struggle with his mixed feelings about his father's secret identity even after Jack is absent, and that's the film's most prominent feature. Lizzie, for instance, could easily fall into mean, popular-girl tropes, but turns out to be the most adept at escape rooms. The film's main plot is to distract from the action, but it's to be pushed aside by the kids.

When Secret Headquarters indulges the delight of children with superpowered gadgets, the film shines. When it narrows the focus to the conflict between Charlie and his dad, and the toll that being a masked vigilante takes on family life, it stands out from other entries in the kids discover superpowers and super-gadgets subgenre.

Secret Headquarters will be available on Paramount Plus on August 12th.