Friendship and courage take center stage when Charlie and his friends stumble upon the headquarters of the Guard (Owen Wilson) and realize the world's most powerful superhero is Charlie's dad. When an evil businessman (Michael Peņa) sends in a team to infiltrate the lair and retrieve the Guard's energy source, the youngsters spring into action and turn the tables on the intruders. (from Paramount Pictures)
I get it. I'm probably not the intended target for this kind of movie, so I may not be the best judge of Paramount+'s original movie, Secret Headquarters. But, in all fairness, studios frequently make family films that are great for all ages - even adults - be it animated movies from Pixar or DreamWorks, or live action movies like National Treasure and Lyle, Lyle Crocodile. Secret Headquarters is one of those movies geared almost exclusively toward a distinct age group, in this case, the thirteen to fifteen "young adult" age. The basic plot of Secret Headquarters follows the son of a superhero who accidentally finds his father's "secret headquarters" when he stumbles upon a mysterious elevator while with some of his friends. Of course, they end up playing with any gadget they find and quickly grab the attention the story's main villain, who is trying to find this superhero's power source. And, of course, mayhem ensues.
In the very first scene, Secret Headquarters finds Owen Wilson's character, Jack, his wife Lily and their son Charlie camping in the woods when very suddenly a collision happens in the sky above them and a crash happens in the distance. Jack runs off alone to see if anyone involved in the crash needs help, and he finds a wounded soldier named Irons. The two then investigate a crashed UFO and a mysterious alien orb emerges to choose a host. It first scans Irons and finds him unworthy, and then it scans Jack, finding him to be just what it's looking for. And with that, a superhero is born. This all happens within the first couple minutes of the movie, with barely a second to get to meet these characters. The movie then jumps ahead TEN YEARS, completely breezing over Jack's life as a superhero - named The Guard - and we find a now-fourteen-year-old Charlie in middle school. We quickly learn that Jack and Lily divorced, Charlie doesn't know Jack is The Guard, Charlie idolizes The Guard, and resents his father always being busy with work. Wilson is almost completely sidelined right away and disappears for the bulk of the film, allowing Charlie and a few of his thinly-developed friends to stumble upon the secret headquarters and struggle to deal with a home invasion from the movie's main villains.
My problem with the movie is that there isn't really enough of an appeal with the young main cast to warrant watching just them for most of the movie. Sure, I admit I'm a longtime fan of Owen Wilson and was disappointed that he sits out most of the movie, but the kids and their relationships with each other just aren't very interesting. And since Charlie borderline hates his father, it's tough to warm up to the kid who doesn't realize his dad is the very person he idolizes (which sounds a lot like The Legend of Zorro, by the way). Since we know his dad is a hero and is sacrificing his family for the good of mankind, it seems unfair how little respect Charlie has for his dad. However, it's hard to believe Jack has kept his super-secret for a decade of Charlie's life, when just letting him in on things would help explain so much. All of this makes the movie more frustrating at times than enjoyable, and with me being an adult viewer, not much happens with the young teens that seems like it's more interesting than whatever problem The Guard has flown off to fix. And since the movie opens in a way that makes the unknowing viewer think that Wilson's character might have a big focal point in the story, it's kind of a bait-and-switch when the story becomes all about the kids. And, honestly, that might be fine if the movie were more like Super 8 or E.T. or Stranger Things, but these kids aren't all that endearing or interesting to watch, so most of their scenes are kind of a bore. It's really not until the last act when an Ant-Man-style action climax shows us who The Guard actually is as he comes up against Michael Peņa's Argon who fights The Guard in one of his suits. The tone is kept mostly light, and the fight gets pretty silly at times (and not always in a good way), but having Wilson back on screen just shows - at least to this viewer - how much more he brings to the screen than the main kids.
I often like seeing Michael Peņa in movies, but there's been a weird trend of casting him as a villain that I don't think really works (last year's Tom and Jerry is a good example, but to be fair, that movie called for a sillier "villain"). He's a fun actor - and I love his character in the Ant-Man movies - but when he plays the villain, it's a strange mix of serious and silly. It seems like he should really stick to one or the other. Because Peņa, as a villain, isn't all that menacing -- especially when he's cracking jokes. I really liked Walker Scobell in The Adam Project from earlier this year, but he didn't work as well here as a central character. Whether that was because the other characters around him also didn't stand out, or it was just his performance, I don't know, but I don't feel it worked all that well.
The content for Secret Headquarters is pretty PG family friendly. However, there is some language, including a partial use of the "S" word from Charlie, and a handful of uses of "h*ll" and "d*mn," among other cuss words. There isn't really any sexual content, so the main red flag is some of the violence. The only kind of bloody moment is when a man takes an energy blast to the shoulder and we see his torn shirt with some blood soaked on it. Another character comes to their aid and dabs it with a cloth before cauterizing the wound off screen, but it still might be a little intense for some viewers. A bad guy also suddenly shoots and kills another bad guy off screen, but we then see the dead body lying on the floor behind other characters. Very little of the violence ever shows blood though -- beyond a few scrapes and cuts.
Secret Headquarters really isn't a bad film, but it's much more of a niche movie for a very specific age group. Again, while some family movies work for all ages, this one doesn't quite cut it. And for anyone tuning in because of Owen Wilson's top billing, the fact that he's really only in the beginning and end will surely be a disappointment. If you're looking for a family-friendly, kid-centric superhero movie, look no further than Secret Headquarters. Chances are, younger audiences will appreciate it. But if you are looking for something a little more serious or memorable, maybe check out Black Panther: Wakanda Forever instead.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 12/19/22)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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