The Adventures of Tintin had always been a bit of a sure thing. With Steven Spielberg behind a camera he can put wherever the hell he wants, which he does indeed do, while adapting adventurous source material that couldn’t be more up in his wheelhouse, what could go wrong? Plus, he’s got a script from a dream team of writers — Joe Cornish, Edgar Wright, and Steven Moffat — and with Peter Jackson producing. I say it again, what could go wrong?
As expected, not much. This is the high flying, energetic, and playful action film that we all hope and expect from Spielberg. As nearly everyone will unanimously point out, this is what we all wanted from Indy 4. This is Spielberg at his most indulgent, and it’s fantastic seeing him working at such a level.
Spielberg embraces motion-capture in a wondrous way, and he pushes every gizmo and tool he’s got to its fullest extent. If anyone oddly questioned why Tintin was done in mo-cap — besides how silly Tintin’s hair would look live-action and the logistics of having Snowy doing crazy stunts — you’ll shut up after seeing the magic on display here.
One of the best examples? There’s a five-minute chase scene set in Morroco, and it’s jaw-droppingly impressive. It’s all executed in one take with a perfect grasp of geography, the right amount of insanity, and it works to enhance the story. In fact, the sequence is so satisfying one wishes the film would end right after it. It’s a perfect set piece, not only in terms of the geography, but the minor stakes and motivations are clearly set up, making the chase all the more exciting.
Cornish, Wright, and Moffat’s script makes for a basic chase film, utilizing the “goes from point A to point B!” routine. Like Wright’s films and Cornish’s Attack the Block, they run through those points with a breathless energy, bridging on being bothersome. The story is simple: Tintin (Jamie Bell), a competent and kind of whiny journalist, is thrown into a big and mysterious adventure. He teams up with the drunk and beaten down Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), the only character one can come to care about, to stop the evil Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig). Why’s he evil? Because he just is, that’s why.
As mentioned, Haddock is the sole investable (human) character in the film. The biggest issue with Tintin is that, if Indiana Jones, when we were first introduced to him, was an engaging and flawed and charming mystery, Tintin is none of those things; he’s a blank-slate. It could be argued his emptiness is intended to make him a surrogate for the audience, but it’s doubtful Spielberg thought, “Let’s make this character as dull as possible.” There’s nothing to grab on to with Tintin. The fact that the titular character is so disengaging makes the first ten minutes, excluding the opening credits, difficult to jump into, since the opening mainly involves Tintin asking expository questions to his dog Snowy, kind of like a video game.
He gets thrown into the background in his own story. Early on, it becomes obvious this is the Snowy, Captain Haddock, Spielberg and Jackson show. They’re the stars here, not the titular character.
However, the director, being the master of manipulation that he is, makes most of the film’s problems more of an afterthought. When The Adventures of Tintin begins to run at a breakneck pace, Spielberg’s foray into motion-capture operates as an example of energetic and first-rate blockbuster filmmaking, warts and all.
The Upside: Highly imaginative; a wonderful sense of fun and adventure; Spielberg crafts one of the best action sequences of his career; clever, comically and action-wise; Daniel Craig does the one-dimensional slime ball shtick justice; Nick Frost and Simon Pegg should get their own spinoff as the oblivious Thompson twins; Spielberg makes you forget the script issues, at least during the brisk 107 minute running time.
The Downside: The thin script.
On the Side: Snowy the Dog puts all of the dogs in the world to great shame.