The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is the type of fare Steven Spielberg specialises in: a rollercoaster of thrills and spills that will keep you entertained through its full running time. It’s shame then, that it doesn’t quite hit the highest of peaks that it has the potential to.
Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a frighteningly boring character; Indiana Jones he is not. However, he’s interesting in that he’s a rare example of a lead character who’s painted as the audience surrogate. Typically, this role is given to the sidekick or another member of the supporting cast, but Tintin is so bland and such a blank canvas that anyone could easily imagine themselves as Tintin and what they’d do in his situation. That said, Bell does a good job with the limited material he’s afforded. Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) don’t really connect as well as they should, while the villain of the piece, Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig), is drawn about as well as an am-dram pantomime baddie.
Thankfully, Tintin is accompanied by Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and his most trusted companion Snowy the dog. Both exude an off-the-scale likability, with Haddock providing the best comic relief and a well-told backstory, and Snowy outshining his human companion through his sprightly moxie and street smarts.
Spielberg’s knack for stunning, memorable setpieces emerges once again in The Adventures of Tintin. Unlike the appalling tree-swinging sequence in Indiana Jones and the Kindgom of The Crystal Skull, at least three of these scenes stick in the mind for the right reasons. The pirate ship battle and crane faceoff are sublime pieces of popcorn-fodder, but it’s the Bagghar scene that really impresses. The decision to use motion capture allows Spielberg to go wild with the camera, and he does just that here, crafting an incredible single-shot action sequence that would be impossible to pull off in a tradtional live-action film. That scene alone is worth the ticket price though the action throughout the movie makes it an enjoyable work overall.
As a whole, The Adventures of Tintin has utterly stunning visuals. Almost every frame could have come from the brush of a renowned painter and there’s a warmth to the art direction that adds to the nostalgia vibe. Spielberg and his art team have really injected depth and texture into Hergé’s world on a massive scale.
The writing is not as sharp as I expected, especially given the talents of screenwriters Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. Outside of Captain Haddock, the dialogue is stilted more often than not and the story arc serves as little more than a train track to take us from one bombastic setpiece to the next, with the exposition ham-fisted at best. Spielberg’s skill helps you to forget all about the script fallacies though, as you get wrapped up in an adventure film told in a way that only a true master of the artform can.