What begins as a fun, nimble little mystery in the first act soon kicks into comedy-action-adventure high gear when junior reporter Tintin, with his brave dog Snowy, stumbles upon boozy Captain Haddock (an excellent Andy Serkis), whose family legacy may prove pivotal in a race to uncover the secret of the Unicorn.
From that point on, it’s more or less non-stop comedy—some fizzles, most of it works—with gags ranging from jaw-dropping blockbuster chase antics to throwaway background humour. Captain Haddock works brilliantly for the most part: he’s unpredictable, endearing, and colourful in all the ways Tintin himself isn’t. While the youngster is well played by Jamie Bell, he’s mostly just there to work out the clues for the audience. Tintin and Haddock make for a good double-act, though: brains and brawn, cunning and in-over-his-head rashness; together they’d make a good Indiana Jones.
The plot is a by the numbers mystery/adventure/treasure hunt, complete with bumbling detectives (so-so comic support from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), exciting sea plane action and hidden clues, but it’s brought to life in gorgeous visual style. While the script only comes alive in fits and starts, the whole film is bursting with rich detail, and is given added depth by a good, solid use of 3D. The virtual camera-work throughout is stupendous.
One extended chase sequence through the flooding streets of a North African city is so dazzling and dizzying it reminded me why no other filmmaker can match Spielberg when he lets his imagination out for a spin. Another action scene, told in flashback, depicts a breathless pirate showdown in a storm, and features some of the most playful transitions I’ve seen since Ang Lee’s Hulk. There’s a pretty good villain, too, played by a wily Daniel Craig.
Snowy, while definitely smarter than your average cute canine, is also given to chasing cats, digging up fossilised bones from the desert, and gobbling sandwiches at decidedly inopportune moments. In other words, he’s an instant audience favourite.
All in all, it’s a rollicking good adventure, one of Spielberg’s most fun movies in a long time, and I’ll be buying it on Blu-ray next year.