Review: "The Adventures of Tintin"

I’d like to believe that everyone agrees in the following sentiment: the fourth Indiana Jones film is terrible. (Well, everyone except George Lucas.) Even Steven Spielberg seems to understand the train wreck he put on screen in 2008, though he won’t come out and say that in order to protect Lucas. That movie stands as one of the worst experiences of my cinematic life, a slap in the face of Phantom Menace proportions. But after having seen The Adventures of Tintin, I feel a little bit better. And I move that we officially strike Kingdom of the Crystal Skull from the record and name Tintin the fourth Indy film. Seconded?

Tintin (voice by Jamie Bell) is a young journalist with a knack for breaking major stories. When he comes across a model of a man-o-war ship known as The Unicorn, he senses a story and begins digging around into the history of the ship and its cargo. Soon he finds himself caught up in the midst of a generations-old battle between two seafaring families, the Haddocks and the Rackhams. After joining forces with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), the last of his line who keeps an important secret buried beneath years of alcoholism, Tintin and his dog Snowy undertake a globetrotting trek to foil the plans of Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who wants to steal the Haddock birthright.

There aren’t a lot of animated movies that qualify as true adventure flicks but Tintin is one of them. From the dynamic opening credits until the conclusion, the film runs at full sprint, rarely stopping to take a breath. It is the very definition of a thrill ride as Tintin and his pals find themselves in one dangerous situation after another. At times it plays out like a video game, jumping from one level (as it were) to the next but in this case, I think that fits the story well. This is sheer fun and exhilaration and the quick shifts in setting and plot should make it easy for kiddos to follow along while parents dig into the Spielbergian adventure.

The characters within Tintin are strong if somewhat limited. Tintin himself is kind of a baby-faced Jack Bauer, a master of all trades from shooting guns to flying planes who always manages to stay one step ahead of his opponents. Haddock provides outstanding comedic relief and a touch of brute force to back Tintin’s brains. In fact, I think the film takes off when Haddock shows up. His presence provides a second gear to Tintin and his relative buffoonery allows for fun and outlandish plot points that keep the ball rolling. All of this begs the question: has any actor ever had a better year without actually appearing in person on camera than Andy Serkis has this year? He’s THE reason why Rise of the Planet of the Apes worked and he is easily the best part of this film in my book. If Tintin doesn’t quite measure up to Indy, Haddock is a better Sallah than John Rhys Davies ever was (heretical statement, I know). And while Sakharine isn’t exactly a pre-war Nazi, his power grows throughout the movie and he becomes a suitable villain.

The only real complaint I might voice about Tintin is the paper-thin plot. While the video game-like feel works overall, there are times when I might have preferred some exposition. There are a few interconnecting storylines that serve to advance the narrative and that’s good because there isn’t a whole lot of time devoted to character or plot development. Even still, at times it comes across as if the plot was picked out of a list of creative writing prompts, though the way Spielberg dives into said prompt is often deliciously entertaining. In addition, Tintin is to motion capture animation what Avatar was to 3D: it is the exception not the rule, the example of what the technology is capable of delivering in the right hands. Robert Zemeckis bankrupted a company trying to master the art of motion capture but in my mind, he never came close to achieving what Spielberg does here. Tintin is an absolutely gorgeous film that thrives on beautiful landscapes and exquisite details. Tintin may be light one plot but it is heavy on excitement and the visuals serve to deepen the experience, making this one of the more enjoyable films of the year.

Grade: A-