Secret Headquarters (2022) Review!!

Synopsis – While hanging out after school, Charlie and his friends discover the headquarters of the world’s most powerful superhero hidden beneath his home. When villains attack, they must team up to defend the headquarters and save the world.

My Take – With comic actors continuing to appear in superhero flicks, I guess it was only time before Owen Wilson donned the suit. And while Marvel and DC already having their fill this year (with two more to go), this latest entry sees Paramount+ attempting their dip into the ever expanding genre.

Helmed by co-directors/writers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Paranormal Activity 4, Nerve), the film, just based on the trailer and the humor present in it, seemed like a unique mix of superhero tale and an ’80s inspired adolescent adventure story, something on the lines of the Spy Kids franchise, but only better.

Yet no one could have prepared me for this surprisingly toothless entry that is not terrible exactly, but sure is thoroughly undistinguished, with a script laced with humor that seldom lands and uninspired to the point of being boring.

Developed from a story by co-screenwriter and frequent Marvel hired hand Christopher L. Yost (Thor: Ragnarok) and Josh Koenigsberg, with the right approach, the film could have been fashioned into something worth watching. Something on the lines of what directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost previous achieved with their inventive narrative in the Netflix film, Project Power (2020), however, held back by its conventional and mediocre writing choices it ends up being just another shallow contrived kid’s film that has just enough elements to satisfy its demographic.

Sure, it isn’t a complete train wreck, but it sure fails in its task in such a frustrating way that it’s aggravating. So many indications of a slightly better product, and potentially far funnier film can be felt throughout, hinting at what could have been. Plus, there is an inescapable air of playing it safe that is settled around the film, robbing viewers of any kind of entertainment value. Something which even Owen Wilson’s easygoing charm cannot save.

The story follows Charlie (Walker Scobell), a 13-year-old kid who is trying to win at his baseball games and is annoyed at how absent his father Jack (Owen Wilson) has always been, following his divorce to his mother Lily (Jessie Mueller), always bailing on spending time with him, insisting he’s just been busy at his IT job.

But when the same happens again, instead of going back to his mom’s as expected, Charlie invites over his best friend Berger (Keith L. Williams) and the girls that they have crushes on, Maya (Momona Tamada) and Lizzie (Abby James Witherspoon). During their hang out, the four teens discover a secret elevator that leads to an underground lair that’s filled with high-tech gadgets and super suits.

They quickly deduce that Jack is no IT nerd but instead the peace-keeping, globe-trotting superhero known as The Guard. But while the teens have fun playing with the gizmos and misguidedly use them, their actions catches the attention of former U.S. Air Force Captain Sean Irons (Jesse Williams), who along with defense contractor CEO named Ansel Argon (Michael Peña) and his mercenaries have been trying to track down The Guard’s hideout and power source for ten years.

While the set up begins promisingly, it isn’t campy enough to embrace its premise. Of course, because the film is aimed at kids, the story is simple and predictable so that the kids can follow the film with ease. The first half of the film sets the right tone and sense of exploration to keep it at least mildly interesting. But the rest of the film doesn’t sustain any fun factor, with the endeavor becoming too heavy with conflict and dreadful acts of comedy, bringing any promise to a halt.

The film even tries to explore the complexities of being a superhero and a father, but by the end abandons it primarily the occasionally generic narrative and the character arcs that don’t always feel earned. Part of the problem with the film is that there is not enough time to really explore Jack and Charlie’s relationship in a meaningful way. There are a few brief scenes between the two characters at the beginning, but then Jack leaves, and once he returns it becomes all about saving the kids. Even the film’s conclusion doesn’t really address their relationship and how it changed through the course of the film.

With less pedestrian writing, there might have been some genuine uplift in the outcome of a family reinforcing its bonds while taking on future missions as a unified team. But the film is mostly just below average. Even when they’re showing a willingness to be kid-killers, Argon and his goons are too bland to be much of a menace, and the rote fights between Jack and Argon don’t pack much excitement. It doesn’t help that the film’s biggest flaw is the bland design.

The Guard’s entire visual aesthetic absolutely draws inspiration from the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Iron Man, from the HUD display as Jack flies through the sky to the center-of-chest arc light and the armor plating. Also most of the production design and most of the visual effects design feel similar to hundreds of other films that have tried to do just the same. There is nothing unique here when it comes to visuals. It is sad because the film feels entirely devoid of personality.

While Owen Wilson was used to selling the film, but he is barely in it. It would have been nice to see more of the character’s backstory as a hero, but Wilson gets a few moments of great action towards the end of the film. Walker 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 and his on-screen chemistry with Owen Wilson is likable.

Momona Tamada and Abby James Witherspoon are both decent in their roles, while Keith L. Williams and Kezii Curtis bring a lot of the high-pitched screams and at times hilarious energy into the mix. Sadly, both Michael Peña and Jesse Williams are wasted here, so is Jessie Mueller. On the whole, ‘Secret Headquarters’ is an uninspiring superhero film that provides harmless, family-friendly fun but won’t be satisfying for anyone else.

Directed – ,

Starring – Owen Wilson, Michael Peña, Walker Scobell

Rated – PG

Run Time – 104 minutes

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