Review by Simon Reynolds/Digital Spy: Hergé’s quiffed hero gets a reverent and lively big screen adaptation from Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, the first installment in a mooted blockbuster franchise.
Washing away the taste of his last movie, the duff Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Spielberg uses the latest cutting-edge tools to bring the intrepid reporter to life in 3D. This performance capture is far from the glassy-eyed uncanny valley that’s plagued Robert Zemeckis. Through Spielberg’s digital lens there’s charm, warmth and, most importantly, the illusion of life with these characters.
Visually dazzling from the cut-out cartoon opening sequence (think Catch Me If You Can) to the breathless action, Spielberg turns a smart script (from Brits Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright) into a rollicking high-energy adventure movie.
The globetrotting story finds baby-faced boy journalist Tintin (Jamie Bell) in a race against Daniel Craig’s devious Ivanovich Sakharine to find sunken treasure on a ship captained by Sir Francis Haddoque. Aided by his faithful dog sidekick Snowy and Sir Francis’s ancestor, the Scottish boozer Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), he’s barrelled across land, sea and air in a breakneck tale that’s got more than a dash of Indiana Jones about it.
Freed from the constraints of live-action directing, Spielberg seems liberated behind the virtual camera, imaginatively cutting together his set pieces with sweeping transitions and delivering punchy, white knuckle action. A sequence where Haddock describes Red Rackham’s assault on Sir Francis’s ship flits effortlessly between the past and present, while a motorcycle chase through the streets of Morocco also has Spielberg firing on all cylinders.
A sense of fun and boy’s own adventure permeates this 3D epic, with light relief from bumbling bowler hat-wearing detectives Thompson (Simon Pegg) and Thomson (Nick Frost) keeping just the right side of “nuking the fridge”. There’s a playfulness to the humor, too, as the eponymous hero’s introduction provides a nice tip of the hat to Hergé. Moffat/Doctor Who fans, make sure to listen out for a “geronimo!”
Tintin’s resourcefulness and derring-do make him an engaging protagonist, but the real stars of the show are the all-action Snowy (frequently bailing out his master) and Haddock. Serkis once again proves why he’s the master of this particular kind of acting style, giving depth to his drunkard sea captain. It’s Haddock, in fact, who has the stronger character arc, leaving Tintin to act as the audience surrogate.
With its dizzying spectacle and fast-paced action, The Adventures of Tintin is top notch entertainment and miles ahead of its performance capture predecessors in its wit and visual sophistication. Expect audiences to lap this up when it makes its cinema debut later this month.