August 15, 2022

“Secret Headquarters” is a Fun, Familiar Superhero Film for the Whole Family (Review)

I’ve always thought that children’s entertainment should not be thought of as inferior, with a comparable level of criticism to adult-oriented productions — with a pointed acknowledgement of its intentions and target audience. On the flip side, there are films and television made for all ages, which Disney and Pixar (up until very recently) seemed to have a monopoly on.

Now, the “hot new thing” is superheroes. Everything superhero-related is getting greenlit — except if it’s even tangentially related to Warner Bros. — because it’s arguably the most recognizable sub-genre by the last two generations of kids, especially with Marvel having dominated the box office for the past 14 years.

But that doesn’t mean it all has to be good. Oftentimes, in the age of influx, more attention is paid to high volume output instead of quality control, and because of that, we get more Marvel projects than we know what to do with. We get a rushed DC cinematic universe. We get movies like Secret Headquarters.

I will say right off the bat that Secret Headquarters, a new original film from Paramount+, is very clearly targeted towards a younger demographic. It’s meant to entertain the concept of superheroes on a very basic level, and refuses to delve any deeper into the core questions it asks about identity, parenthood and corporate greed. It’s a “shoot-’em-up/“blew-’em-up” action movie, peppered with dialogue engineered to be witty and unearned character moments, which isn’t exactly bold — but it commits to it right at the start, and therefore, I can’t fault it for sticking to it.

Walker Scobell, breakout star of Netflix’s The Adam Project earlier this year, stars in Secret Headquarters as Charlie Kincaid, a less sassy and more reserved version of his character from the aforementioned Netflix film. Scobell looks to be choosing science-fiction/fantasy projects where he’s paying a relatively similar character, which only makes me more excited for his turn as Percy Jackson in the upcoming Disney+ series — his type will fit that character well. I’m also looking forward to seeing if he has much range; and I have a feeling we’ll be blown away by an Oscar-worthy performance of his in just a few short years. This kid’s going places.

In Secret Headquarters, though, he plays the son of Owen Wilson’s Jack Kincaid, an absentee father harboring a life-changing secret. On one of his family camping trips, Jack came upon an extra-terrestrial ship, equipped with an English-speaking Siri voice, which transformed him into the superhero known as “the Guard.” And if you’re looking for a more thorough backstory, then tough luck — unless there’s a sequel that retcons a wild amount of superfluous detail into his superhero origin, that’s all we’re going to get.

In the present day, being the Guard (one of the blandest superhero names I’ve ever heard) takes up most of Jack’s time, and he hasn’t been much of a father to Charlie. On the night before a school dance, Charlie takes advantage of his father’s absence and invites over some friends, who very quickly discover the titular secret headquarters where the Guard operates from. And what do these pubescent children do with this super-cool high-tech gear they find? They goof around and go on a joyride, of course!

What follows is mostly a chase film, after a defense tech CEO (played by Michael Peña, giving about as much as he gave in Moonfall) and his team of mercenaries break into the Guard’s lair with malicious intent. Despite being very contained to said headquarters and Charlie’s school, there was either a lot of money thrown around or the production was ridiculously economical, because the visual effects (of which there are many) look phenomenal.

Perhaps that was where most of the budget went — everything else is very surface-level, featuring shallow, under-written characters and predictable plot contrivances that I could see coming from a mile away. There’s just nothing notable to hold onto in Secret Headquarters, though I hesitate to call it unmemorable; every film experience is special because every movie is different. Even if there’s something (or many things) that I’ve seen before, each film has an identity, so it’s not like I’m going to forget that I’ve seen Secret Headquarters. But — and I say this especially because of the times we’re living in — when it comes to superhero flicks, you could do worlds better, but you could also do much worse. Secret Headquarters lands right in the middle for me, so if you’re in the mood for a harmless adventure right out of a comic book, this is a fine way to go.

Secret Headquarters is streaming on Paramount+.

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