“The Adventures of Tintin”
3.5 out of 4 stars
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig and Toby Jones
The exhilaration of a John Williams musical score coupled with a slam-bang opening was something we were first introduced to years ago.
Still, the man who perfected the audio/visual combination demonstrates that such a style never gets old, as evidenced by “The Adventures of Tintin.”
Across Europe, there is no newspaper reporter more respected than Tintin (Jamie Bell), whose ability to track down any story about any subject is unparalleled. In fact, sometimes he even comes across something to write about completely unintentionally.
When the young man purchases a model ship at a street fair, a warning from a furtive American (Joe Starr) piques his interest about what the tiny vessel could contain. Upon further research, Tintin and his faithful, furry companion, Snowy, learn the Unicorn, the inspiration for the wooden toy, held a fantastic secret before famously sinking to the briny deep.
Of course, he’s not the only one to come to this revelation, immediately running afoul of the nefarious Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the information Tintin has found.
Meeting up with such a scoundrel also subsequently introduces him to grizzled, drunken Capt. Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), whose lineage directly corresponds with the Unicorn’s original owner, Sir Francis.
If the seasoned seafarer can pull himself together, he and Tintin could discover something truly astonishing. Providing they don’t get killed first by Haddock’s inebriation-induced lunacy.
Bell gives a bravura showing as the boy who’s not afraid of anything, even if it means risking his skin for the sake of a big story. He’s matched by the appeal of brighter-than-average terrier Snowy, equally brave when it comes to staring down to much bigger animal foes like a rottweiler, camel or falcon.
As much comedy as Snowy provides, most of the guffaws belong to Serkis, who’s long since mastered the art of motion-capture acting.
His bit as Haddock is both raucous and occasionally rousing, portraying a man with salt in his veins — not to mention burps laced with enough alcohol to power a small aircraft over a short distance — who has a lot to live up to with his family history.
And, he is indeed up to the task as long as he can face his greatest fear: sobriety.
Though he’s built up a list of recent hero roles, Craig doesn’t have much trouble stepping back into the parts he played in “Road to Perdition” and “Infamous,” even if Sakharine is much more controlled in his deviousness than either of those two psychos. You won’t recognize the blond actor as the bespectacled, black-bearded baddie, but he plays it for all its worth.
The magic of motion-capture also allows for the seamless integration of the nearly identical, Thomson and Thompson, detectives without a clue, and possible Charlie Chaplin clones. Usual partners Nick Frost and Simon Pegg take up the mantle of the ever-bickering duo, associates of Tintin, who are more concerned with a pickpocket (Toby Jones) in their midst than the bigger picture.
The scale of this voyage gets bigger by the minute, so what better person to handle it than Steven Spielberg?
With a production team that includes old friend Kathleen Kennedy, new friend Peter Jackson, and British names like Joe Cornish, Edgar Wright and Steven Moffat handling the screenplay, failure is not even an option.
The kind of neo-matinee feeling that Spielberg helped bring about 30 years ago with “Raiders of the Lost Ark” comes back in an all-new way here as the filmmaker takes on the method of motion-capture animation.
While pal Robert Zemeckis has been struggling for years to get the process right and James Cameron made huge strides with “Avatar,” he adapts with ease by the simple approach of not making things more convoluted than they need to be.
Spielberg just has a knack for staging action sequences in a way that comes off entirely real, and although the means of shooting such non-stop spectacle has only advanced since the days of the first “Indiana Jones” movie, he has some new tricks up his sleeve while still remaining true to those that got him where he is now.
Going from the MacGuffin that starts things off to the somewhat mild conclusion, there’s no tripping up among this chain of pure thrills.
A motorcycle chase through the streets of Morocco is the pinnacle of the experience and the most Indy-esque moment, but there’s more than enough original material to keep us from thinking the Master is getting repetitive and copying straight from the fedora-wearing archaeologist’s diary.
Then again, is it even possible to rip off yourself?
The adaptation of Belgian comic book artist Hergé’s series has been a long time coming, but “The Adventures of Tintin” — also known as “The Secret of the Unicorn” in other parts of the world — shows good things come to those who wait.
At the rate Spielberg and Jackson are going, it might be ages before we see either of the promised sequels, but we’ll still wait with bated breath.
Just as long as we don’t have to inhale anywhere near Capt. Haddock.