“Secret Headquarters,” from the directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, is in essence a superhero movie designed for children — a lighthearted, low-stakes action blockbuster in which a coterie of plucky tweens must defend the earth by wielding an array of otherworldly powers. The story is very similar to “Spy Kids” (2001), Robert Rodriguez’s whimsical espionage thriller about preteen siblings who discover that their parents are world-class secret agents. In this film, a boy named Charlie (Walker Scobell, “The Adam Project”) deduces that his absent father (Owen Wilson) has been living a double life as the Iron Man-like hero named the Guard. Charlie discovers this after he and his friends stumble upon an underground lair beneath his home; as in “Spy Kids,” the veteran parent soon finds need for junior backup, which the intrepid little kids are all too eager to provide.
A movie like “Secret Headquarters” seems to want to give children an opportunity to see themselves saving the day with superpowers, letting young actors take part in the kinds of C.G.I.-laden fate-of-the-universe battles usually reserved for adults. The effort strikes me as somewhat redundant. When the kids are just doing kid stuff — playing softball, fretting about who to ask to the school dance — “Secret Headquarters” has the playful, mischievous air of something like “The Goonies.” When the kids acquire some of the Guard’s superpowers and start flying around and fighting baddies, it has the air of … well, of just another superhero movie. The similarities offer a credible reminder of an important distinction “Secret Headquarters” missed: most superhero movies are already aimed at children, even if they don’t star any.
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes. Watch on Paramount +.