The Adventures of Tintin is a surprisingly fun movie, which is a sad statement to make about a Steven Spielberg film.
There was a time when you went to a Steven Spielberg film expecting to see nothing but pure cinematic joy. But the man, who hasn't directed a film since the brilliant but bleak Munich in 2005 (no, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn't count), has became Hollywood's most heavy-handed melodramatist in his later years, bombarding even his most escapist work with daddy issues and inoffensive, utterly sentimental narratives.
I was expecting that in full force, but it appears that Spielberg remembered he's making a movie for kids to enjoy (he hooked up with Nickelodeon's film wing in producing this movie). So he put the heavy-handedness on hold (or probably in War Horse, the other Spielberg movie that's reviewed in this column) and decided just to make a rollicking adventure, which is what the Belgian comic books by Hergé—which this movie is based on—were about in the first place.
Spielberg uses motion-capture computer animation supplied by producer Peter Jackson and his Weta Digital crew to cinematically re-create the story of intrepid, inquisitive young reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell), who—along with his faithful dog, Snowy—hooks up with drunken seafarer Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis, sounding like Gerard Butler at his most brogue-ish) and travels across the globe in order to stop a dastardly dude (Daniel Craig) from finding a sunken, treasure-laden ship before they do.
Spielberg clearly made this movie with the simple intent to wow, as evidenced by the bevy of impressive set pieces that he lines up. Unlike his colleagues who have dabbled in performance-capture animated movies, Spielberg doesn't create a world that may more likely give kids nightmares. He worked with three British Isles scribes blessed with the insanely limitless imaginations needed for this operation: Doctor Who show-runner Steven Moffat; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World director Edgar Wright; and Joe Cornish, the director of this year's underrated, truly awesome Spielberg salute, Attack the Block (seriously, find that and watch it!).
Some critics have complained that for all its visual wizardry, The Adventures of Tintin is really a whole bunch of nothing—and, from a brief plot summary, it may seem that way. But that's almost what makes the movie even more refreshing. Unlike most Spielberg productions, the movie has no agenda that I know of, almost matching Hergé's original aesthetic shift when he turned his once anti-Fascist comic into a nonpolitical piece of animated escapism during World War II. With The Adventures of Tintin, Steven Spielberg remembers that even if you make a movie that isn't about that much, at least make it an exciting, awe-inspiring movie about not that much.