The Adventures of Tintin (Review)
Tintin’s American theatrical debut is a visually stunning and extremely thrilling adventure.
Score: * * * * (out of 5)
Rated: PG for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking.
Intrepid young reporter Tintin, star of an early 1900s Belgian comic book series by a man known as Herge, has had minimal exposure in the United States beyond the translated comic books and a brief cartoon television show. My own knowledge of the series is limited to the very small handful of the comics I’ve been able to find and read. I was fairly young when I first read a Tintin comic, but I liked it. It was fun, fairly exciting, and filled with some terrific characters. Steven Spielberg agreed, and now, partnering with Peter Jackson, he has worked to finally bring the reporter to the masses with a big screen adventure. And what an adventure it is.
Based on the Tintin installment The Secret of the Unicorn, this debut follows Tintin (Jamie Bell) as, true to form, he gets thrown headfirst into danger immediately after purchasing an ancient model ship, when he is greeted by a sharply dressed man who introduces himself only as Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who asks politely to purchase the ship from Tintin. Tintin’s refusal does not go over well, and Tintin is eventually kidnapped and taken onto a boat, where he learns Sakharine’s true intentions: to recover the contents of the model ship, one of three scrolls that reveal the location of an old sunken ship. After Tintin’s small white dog, Snowy (who is awesome, by the way), rescues Tintin from his bonds, Tintin runs into Captain Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), from whom the ship has been taken. Escaping from the ship, Tintin and Haddock find themselves racing Sakharine to find all of the clues and uncover the secret of an old rivalry between the Sakharine and Haddock bloodlines.
As you could guess, the voice cast here is pretty great. Jamie Bell seems to be a perfect fit for Tintin. Andy Serkis, who has essentially become a chameleon of thespians (having done Gollum from Lord of the Rings, and Casear from Rise of the Planet of the Apes) is also hard to distinguish yet completely perfect as Haddock. It was a treat to see Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reunited as two bumbling, idiotic, identical-looking police officers named Thomson & Thompson. They’re one of the best comedic duos working today and they play off each other with delightful precision as always. Daniel Craig was the most easily identifiable as the villain, and he positively oozes menace as Sahkarine. This is, I believe, his first villain role in a major film, and he does it so well that I am very excited to see what other evil characters he gets to play in the future. Everyone in the cast clicked together excellently, without falling into the trap of other celebrity-voiced movies in which the star’s persona takes precedence over the actual character (I’m looking at you, Kung Fu Panda).
For a family film, The Adventures of Tintin is one hell of an exciting action flick. Nearly every action scene ends up escalating to levels of utter insanity, with massive setpieces filled with implausible and completely crazy elements stacking on top of each other. To give away some of the more ridiculous pieces would be to spoil the fun in how far they go, but suffice it to say that the complete disregard for plausibility in favor of outrageous, epic mayhem and wanton destruction is worth the price of admission alone. A massive pirate ship battle that puts everything in Disney’s franchise to shame, a totally bananas chase through a Moroccan port town, and a final battle that completely abandons all reason are only the tip of the iceberg.
Steven Spielberg has stated in interviews that he enjoyed using the motion capture/computer animation format because of the way it allows him to do things he would not normally be able to do in real life. Indeed, he lets his imagination run wild here, not only with those action sequences, but also with some very creative camera movements, through buildings and transitioning creatively through scenes that would be either completely impossible or far too expensive or complex for an actual camera.
The film has a very interesting style, framing cartoonish characters against a more realistic background. Tintin and Thomson & Thompson have very round heads and softer angles, in contrast to the harshly angular dimensions of Sakharine. These characters, ripped straight from the comic (and directly referenced in an amusing nod to the original animations) inhabit a world that is as detailed and realistic as the technology will allow and makes for a rather pleasing aesthetic. Speaking of the animation, this is possibly the most impressive looking motion-capture animated film I’ve yet seem. It deftly avoids the uncanny valley (a plague that makes animated characters look distinctly unrealistic) and the horrible dead eyes that so many other computer animated films cannot get right. It’s bursting with life and color. The most impressive aspect is undoubtedly Snowy. Tintin’s canine sidekick is a triumph in animation, appearing so real in his animations that it’s sometimes easy to forget you’re not watching the real thing.
The movie is not perfect, however. After a very entertaining first half, the movie bogs down a bit with the mystery, and the mystery is significantly less interesting than the characters surrounding it. This might have something to do with the action, which is so fast-paced that the movie pretty much screeches to a halt when the action sequences end. I cared less about what the characters were chasing, and more about why they were doing it, which is little more than a thirst for adventure. The revelation about Sakharine wanting to amend the death of his ancestor was a great turning point, at least. I can only hope that with the sequel, which is already in the works as The Adventures of Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun, will have a more interesting story. As it stands, Spielberg almost backed himself into a corner, creating action scenes that are so intense that the story falters in comparison. Hopefully Jackson, Spielberg, and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz will be able to deliver a better balance with the sequel, without skimping on the action.
Despite that, the story was decent enough to be engaging, and the action and colorful characters carried it the rest of the way. It slows down every now and then, but always picks right back up with some more large-scale action. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have assembled a film that by turns a pseudo-history lesson, treasure hunting adventure, engaging mystery, and breakneck action picture. It stumbles occasionally, but not enough to dampen the experience. This is a gorgeously animated, very exciting film and a great time at the movies.