Adult audiences have a tendency to take superhero cinema a little bit too seriously. We all sit and furrow our brows at the latest twists and turns of the MCU (and despair at the ongoing ineptitude of the so-called ‘DC Extended Universe’). We wait with bated breath for new film and casting announcements from various Comic-Cons and dream about how this extraordinary and colourful new world – the inarguable predominant film currency of the 21st century – will develop its mythology and keep audiences shelling out at the box office for increasingly ambitious and outlandish four-colour adventures. Some get a bit sniffy at the thought of ‘kids’ enjoying this stuff, choosing to forget that, at their heart (and before the rise of ‘graphic novel’ culture that worked to legitimise the artform), comic books and superheroes were created predominantly for imaginative youngsters. Secret Headquarters works to redress the balance a little, and whilst it’s achingly predictable and determinedly derivative, it’s aimed with almost laser-beam precision at a young audience and delivers enough thrills and spills and glitzy CGI to pass a hundred-odd minute amiably enough.
During a camping trip with his wife and young son, Jack Kincaid (Owen Wilson) makes contact with a strange glowing sphere called ‘the Source’ that emerges from the wreckage of a crashed space vehicle. Ten years later and a mysterious superhero known as The Guard has become the protector of humanity but Jack is now separated from his wife and is trying to re-establish a relationship with his son Charlie (Walter Scobell), now an insecure teenager. He also has a secret headquarters full of hi-tech weaponry and equipment hidden beneath his home and when Charlie and his friends come to stay and Jack is called away to deal with a work emergency, they discover that Jack is actually The Guard. Meanwhile ‘boo-his bad guy’ and frustrated tech genius Ansel Argon (Michael Peña) wants to get his hands on ‘the Source’ and when he and his team track it down to Jack’s lair, shenanigans and hi-jinx ensue.
Secret Headquarters is harmless, colourful fun, Home Alone soaked in CGI. It occasionally makes knowing nods at superhero cinema tropes – a last-reel fight between The Guard and Argon in a school corridor, both clad in Iron Man-like superhero suits, is paused by Argon who is out of breath, sweaty, and in need of a drink from a nearby water fountain. It’s a film with heart too, dealing with childhood insecurity and the importance of strong family ties with Jack (Wilson actually only appears in the first and last twenty minutes or so) trying to juggle his responsibilities as a parent with those of a superhero and Walter Scobell as Charlie is as delightfully naïve and charming as he was in last year’s The Adam Project. Fans who study Venn diagrams detailing the intricacies of Marvel movie timelines and the ins and outs of the Multiverse and what it all means won’t have time for Secret Headquarters but it’s not meant for them, it’s meant for the next generation of potential superhero supporters who absolutely deserve something just for them.
Secret Headquarters is streaming now on Paramount Plus