We’ve had another year with a summer of superheroes. The 2022 summer movie season has ended early but has added considerably to the superhero craze of the past decade. Marvel gave us the rock and roll of Thor: Love and Thunder, and DC gave us an animated adventure in DC League of Super-Pets. Now it’s time for Paramount+ to dip their toe into the superhero pool.
Secret Headquarters is a fun, serviceable superhero film that’s tame enough to entertain audiences young and old. It follows a kid named Charlie Kincaid (Walker Scobell) who discovers a secret headquarters under his home with his friends and begins to suspect that his dad, Jack (Owen Wilson), is a superhero. The movie is held back by its conventional and, at times, mediocre writing choices but has enough gas in the tank to satisfy its demographic. Unfortunately, the opening act is where the film houses many of its issues, as it’s where the movie falls into several clichés. To start, Charlie goes viral on TikTok for something humiliating, a character setup we’ve already seen in the maligned Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. Every movie with a group of young characters needs one superficial, phone-obsessed influencer girl, and this movie is no exception.
The film’s logline builds mystery surrounding whether Jack is a superhero named The Guard. The setup for Jack is classic 90s movie territory, with an absent father always caught up with work who doesn’t get to spend quality time with his child. It’s typical writing, but the movie never brings the concept to its full potential. That central question of whether Jack is a superhero or not is answered in the film’s opening scene. It would have been much more compelling if the movie began with a normal-appearing family that has an absent father, ensuring that the audience spent a reasonable amount of time wondering if Jack is a real superhero or if Charlie is trying to excuse his father’s behavior with the idea of a superhero.
However, when the children discover the secret headquarters with advanced technology, Secret Headquarters becomes more entertaining. The production design for the headquarters is immaculate, with a young, cinematic feel that aims to deliver the childlike wonder of the 80s. The characters are all likable and funny, and the movie gets a lot of mileage out of giving them advanced technology and letting them do what kids do, such as cheating on tests and trying to drive. Everyone has a fun, charming personality, delivering something unique.
Scobell proved his talent earlier this year with his performance in The Adam Project. He does it again here, proving himself to be a charismatic rising young star. Keith L. Williams brings a lot of the high-pitched screams and hilarious energy from Good Boys into this much more family-friendly film, and it works. Momona Tamada and Abby James Witherspoon are both excellent in their roles, and Wilson brings a lot of his screen presence to the film despite not having much screen time until the final act. Michael Peña is also superb in his antagonistic role.
The best compliment I can give Secret Headquarters is that, despite the PG rating, the filmmakers never feel like they’re talking down to their audience. Co-writers and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have worked in the superhero genre before, specifically with the 2020 Netflix film Project Power. Unfortunately, they bring a few of the issues from that film into this one — primarily the occasionally generic narrative and the character arcs that don’t always feel earned. Still, this movie ultimately works better due to its general feel-good nature, maturity, and sense of fun.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 6 equates to “Decent.” It fails to reach its full potential and is a run-of-the-mill experience.
Disclosure: The critic received a press screener for ComingSoon’s Secret Headquarters review.