From the opening credits to an early gag involving a portrait artist, Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures Of Tintin formally announces its intent to respect the style and vision of Hergé, the Belgian artist who created Tintin and took the boy reporter/adventurer through two dozen books of comic-book adventures over the course of more than 40 years. Conscious hat-tips aside, though, Adventures Of Tintin is far more a modern movie experience than a retro one. Its motion-capture CGI renders the characters in rubbery, apple-cheeked versions that sometimes slide queasily into the uncanny valley; its script (written by the dream team of Doctor Who show-runner Steven Moffat, Hot Fuzz writer-director Edgar Wright, and Attack The Block writer-director Joe Cornish) is an of-the-moment action movie, little more than a lengthy series of big setpieces, crammed with fights and chases.
But most of those fights and chases are worth watching. When Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) casually buys a model ship in a street market, then shrugs off the two men who immediately try to buy it from him, he unwittingly launches a massive McGuffin-hunt centering on an object hidden within the model. In typical Tintin fashion, one clue leads to the next, with the characters hopping from country to country, from ocean to desert, from a ruined country house to a sheik’s palace. And as in Hergé’s work, Tintin himself doesn’t have much personality, apart from determination and curiosity; he’s the narrative equivalent of a crowbar, a simple, sturdy tool that’s largely useful for prying and occasionally thunking a goon on the head. But while Tintin lacks backstory or personal development, Adventures Of Tintin compensates with his new partner Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), who’s crammed with color, curses, and whiskey. As in the books, they make solid foils.
And Adventures Of Tintin makes for a solid ride, as it throws the pair into the midst of a vast whirligig of significant items lost and found, plots foiled and reconvened, and acquaintances ditched and recovered. (Among them, the twin incompetent lawmen Thompson and Thomson, voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.) Spielberg directs with a keen eye for clarity, both visually and narratively: While the plot is dense and complex, the heroes’ goals are always clear, and the narrative plays fair with the mystery, drawing a straight, comprehensible line from one step to the next. (Far fairer than it plays with the laws of physics, which get mangled into unrecognizability, especially when comedy or excitement might result.) And the many action setpieces are carefully staged to be exciting and involving, but not confusing. Tintin falters a bit toward the end, spending so much energy on a large-scale fight that the small-scale battle that serves as a climax feels meager by comparison, and then pointedly setting up the sequels to come. But while it’s essentially just another slick Spielberg action machine, it’s operating effectively on all cylinders throughout.