Secret Headquarters: Review
Charles lives the life of a typically awkward teenager – hanging with friends, stumbling through embarrassing situations, and sharing a distant relationship with his absentee father, Jack. But, things aren’t quite as they seem when Charles and his lively friends discover a secret lair underneath Jack’s humble abode. It ends up being the home of the world’s greatest superhero, The Guard, a.k.a Jack – a fact that soon drives a wave of opportunistic foes to seize the unoccupied base in Secret Headquarters.
Superheroes soared to the top of the box office a long time ago, although the genre’s supremacy comes with some unfortunate misgivings. DC, Marvel, and non-IP hero ventures alike continue to lock their super-powered protagonists in the confines of bombastic blockbusters. While there are occasional risks, like Joker and Sleight, most hero features rarely receive the latitude to redefine themselves in exciting new contexts.
In the vein of campy cape efforts like We Can Be Heroes and Sky High, Paramount+’s latest streaming release, Secret Headquarters, at least earns points for having fun with itself. The buoyant, kid-friendly yarn centers on the perspective of Charlie and his friends as they turn super-powered gadgets into their personal playground. I can’t say the film extracts a particularly seminal experience, but the final product imbues enough winning energy into its breezy reinvention of familiar formula.
Don’t let the generic marketing materials fool you. While Headquarters wears the face of a by-the-numbers kid romp, the film defines its own playful voice. Screenwriters Josh Koenigsberg and Christopher Yost keep the energy light and breezy throughout, concocting a gamut of silly gags and pratfalls that play around with superheroes’ lionized status (a gag poking fun at the extreme heat of super suits is a highlight).
Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost show equal dedication to the camp factor. Even when working with some wonky visual effects, the duo imbue a sense of exuberance into each spirited action clash. I would rather see a movie that puts in maximum effort to elevate its minimalist assets rather than coasting on the luxury of a big budget.
I also credit the creative team for cleverly eschewing the melodrama that most family films haphazardly embrace. The distant relationship between Charles and Jack receives just enough screentime to marinate some meaningful textures on screen. Including the superhero lens also brings a welcomed twist on heroes’ well-established mythos. The conceit of Charles struggling to balance world-saving responsibilities and his fatherly role brings some much-needed vulnerability – even if the execution can sink into generic territory.
Don’t get me wrong; Secret Headquarters is no masterpiece. The premise’s human undercurrent receives some attention in the first third before taking the backseat to noisy Home Alone shenanigans. I think the film extracts some fun from its mix of conventional elements, but the premise’s potential feels somewhat untapped. Stars Owen Wilson and The Adam Project’s Walker Scobell share lived-in chemistry as the father-son pair. Unfortunately, a bombastic third act reduces the impact their dynamic could possess.
Secret Headquarters still won me over in its Saturday morning cartoon approach to superhero films. Supercharged with zany energy and enough genuine goodwill, Headquarters should make for an excellent diversion for kids and a surprisingly pleasant watch for older viewers.