In contrast to our other, less-than-enthused review of The Adventures of Tintin from earlier this year, I offer the following counterpoint: The Adventures of Tintin rocks harder than the rockiest rock. This is blisteringly fast-paced, expertly crafted and exciting filmmaking the likes of which we haven’t seen from Steven Spielberg in decades. I’d even venture so far as to say it’s Spielberg’s most entertaining movie since Raiders of the Lost Ark, or at least Temple of Doom, since it shares that latter film’s freewheeling pacing to the exact same, utterly forgivable fault: it’s so consistently thrilling that I was too exhausted to fully enjoy its epic climax.
The Adventures of Tintin is based on the comic book series by Belgian author Hergé, some of which I have read, and stars the titular Tintin as a boyishly daring reporter with boundless enthusiasm for mysteries and adventures. As played by Jamie Bell and an army of motion-capture animators, Tintin is a likable fellow with no flaws to speak of. Normally I’d hate him for that, but Tintin’s good nature keeps the film focused while the actual storyline focuses on his travelling companion, Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), who needs to overcome his crippling alcoholism to solve the mystery of the day. I suspect a few overprotective mothers will object to Tintin’s depiction of alcoholism as a harmless comedy prop, but we call them overprotective for a reason. It’s a playful portrayal of boozing as a cartoonish crutch for a character who is clearly better off without it.
The plot is pretty light, and that’s a good thing since the film ventures to so many locales and through so many chase sequences that anything more complicated would have been bogged it down. Tintin purchases an innocuous knick-knack model ship that actually has a secret message hidden inside. It’s a riddle that leads to a sunken treasure that only a member of the Haddock family line can discover, so the villainous Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig) kidnaps them both to steal it for himself. Tintin and Haddock get in all manner of spectacularly realized action sequences to keep Sakharine from getting away with his evil plans, including one of the most exciting chase sequences ever filmed. I’m not normally a fan of motion-captured cinema, but this breathtaking centerpiece would not have been possible in live-action. It’s a one-take wonder that flies through buildings, city streets and through the air, following a motorcycle, a hawk, a tank with a hotel perched on top of it and a hell of a lot more fiendishly choreographed elements all going on at once. Even in a computer-generated environment, creating this marvel must have been a nightmare.
By the end of the film, unfortunately, so terribly much has filled your inner child with wonder that the last, improbably epic fight sequence might be a little too stimulating for its own good. Maybe I’m getting old, but I was pretty much ready for the film to be over just so I could process everything I’d already seen, and found myself tuning out a little bit, just to keep all my synapses from firing at once. But if the only flaw in a film is that it’s so entertaining that it liquefies your brain, we should all be thankful.
The Adventures of Tintin is an insubstantial film. We learn nothing of the human condition and no overt philosophies are espoused. Thank you, Spielberg, for not cramming them down our throats for a change. This is light entertainment at its rollicking best.