Aided by an excellent young cast, Secret Headquarters is a fun adventure for all ages, even if certain elements feel superficial in the end.
Keith L Williams, Walker Scobell, Kezii Curtis, Momona Tamada, and Abby James Witherspoon in Secret HeadquartersKeith L. Williams, Walker Scobell, Kezii Curtis, Momona Tamada, and Abby James Witherspoon in Secret Headquarters
These days, the superhero genre is getting more action than just about any other. The downside to this is that it is very easy to get overwhelmed by all the offerings. Superhero fatigue is very real. However, there is also a plus side, and it’s that the definition of what a superhero project can be has expanded. For example, if the gritty and violent nature of The Boys is far too much for someone, they can instead turn to the more lighthearted worlds of the MCU or Paramount+’s new original film Secret Headquarters. In some ways, the Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman-directed film is less of a traditional superhero story and more of a childhood wish fulfillment caper, though it does still end with plenty of CGI spectacle. Aided by an excellent young cast, Secret Headquarters is a fun adventure for all ages, even if certain elements feel superficial in the end.
14-year-old Charlie Kincaid (Walker Scobell) has a difficult relationship with his father Jack (Owen Wilson). Jack constantly flakes on Charlie and doesn’t even realize his son is left-handed. Charlie assumes Jack is just a deadbeat dad, but the truth is more complicated: Jack is actually the world-famous superhero the Guard, chosen by an alien artifact years ago to be Earth’s protector. When Charlie first stumbles upon his dad’s secret alongside his friends, it seems like the best discovery in the world as the middle-schoolers make creative use of his high-tech gadgets. However, the party soon comes to a screeching halt when a team of bad guys (led by Michael Peña’s corporate villain Argon) come searching for the source of Jack’s powers, forcing Charlie and his friends to hero up and save the day.
Joost and Schulman co-wrote the screenplay alongside Christopher Yost and Josh Koenigsberg, based on a story by Yost. The concept of a kid learning the awesome truth behind their boring parent isn’t exactly a new one (Spy Kids is just the tip of the iceberg there), but Secret Headquarters still has fun with the idea. The movie makes quick work of establishing Charlie’s dissatisfaction with Jack, and viewers can probably guess how their relationship develops by the end. Secret Headquarters could be defined as predictable, but Joost and Schulman manage to inject enough childlike wonder into the action that it’s easy to overlook some of its flaws. When Charlie and his friends bring Jack’s gadgets to school, the directors find plenty of humor to mine in the silly ways they utilize the alien tech. Overall, Secret Headquarters is genuinely funny. Not every joke may land, but the ensemble has great comedic timing.
Secret Headquarters’ cracks start to show if one looks past the lighthearted antics and cast. Joost and Schulman aren’t too interested in digging into the nitty gritty of Jack’s extraterrestrial setup, nor do they spend much time developing the villains. Jesse Williams, who plays a pilot desperate to uncover the truth behind the Guard’s existence, is the only one to get something akin to a real arc, but it’s relatively shallow in the grand scheme of things. Peña seems to be having fun as the unscrupulous Argon, but his characterization is overall very flat. As for the alien entity that gave Jack his heroic purpose, little is said about why he was chosen, or how the alien object came to crash on Earth. It could be argued that Secret Headquarters doesn’t need to go very deep into these things, but it could’ve made the movie all the more special.
The most important aspect of Secret Headquarters is its young cast, however, and they do wonderfully. Scobell, who already proved his chops earlier this year with The Adam Project, continues to show why he’ll make an excellent Percy Jackson. Balancing witty remarks and quieter vulnerability, Scobell really makes Charlie someone to root for. Keith L. Williams, Momona Tamada, and Abby James Witherspoon fill in the key roles of Charlie’s friends, and each performer brings something unique to their character. Williams is especially funny, Tamada exudes a quiet fierceness, and Witherspoon reveals there are more sides to her character than she initially seems to possess. The adult cast, made up of reliable actors, is expectedly solid. It must be said that there is some amusement that comes from watching MCU vets like Wilson and Peña play very different kinds of characters here.
Secret Headquarters hardly reinvents the superhero wheel, but it has so much heart that one doesn’t mind. Certain elements could’ve been better served by some deeper exploration, but audiences looking for a silly, exuberant adventure will likely be satisfied. Scobell is a young star in the making, as are Williams, Tamada, and Witherspoon. They make up a large portion of Secret Headquarters’ charm. Watching them play, fight, and become heroes is an enjoyable experience, and it’s enough to overlook some superficiality found elsewhere. As a whole, this adventure is a success.
Secret Headquarters begins streaming on Paramount+ Friday, August 12. It is 104 minutes long and rated PG for violence, action, language and some rude humor.