If it's crap ... We'll tell you
First off, I'm not really familiar with the Tintin comics. This was the first time I've been exposed to the story from this character, despite having seen the original drawings of Tintin and his dog Snowy. And if we are to go by the old saying of "make a good first impression," then for a lot of people, this is probably the best introduction to the character I could imagine.
Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) is a young newspaper reporter who keeps finding himself as the headline news of the week. Most of his stories involve mysteries of lost treasures and murders, and the movie's story is no different. Here, while taking in the local flea market, he stumbles upon a model ship that strikes his fancy and purchases it. Shortly afterwards, two strangers approach him asking for the model ship. The confrontation leads Tintin to investigate the story behind the real ship itself and why so many people are interested in it, specifically one Ivanovich Sakharine (voiced by Daniel Craig). Sakharine himself is described by another character in the film Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis) as "the man with the sugary name and the sour face." Haddock is also an important part to the mystery, as his family is connected to the model ship and its secrets.
The story itself plays out in your typical set up. Solve the mystery before the bad guys do and beat them to the treasure. The pacing of the film, however, plays out like the original Indiana Jones movies. To steal a friend's description of the film, "This is a Spielberg I haven't seen since '89." The direction and the pacing of each plot point balances out every action sequence that bookends them. Story elements reveal themselves in a way that doesn't feel forced or expository. It's easy to pay attention to what's going on, and often there are a lot of things going on, including several background gags. At no point did I feel like a scene was unnecessary, including the subplot involving the local pick pocket thief. Much like Tintin, I kept wanting to learn more clues about the model ship, its connection to Haddock, and what secrets it was hiding. And let me tell you, it is quite a ride.
As a fan of character design, this film gave me an interesting challenge. We've gone back into the Uncanny Valley for this film, but kept it on the side of stylization rather than photo-realism. While Tintin and Haddock retain realistic skin, wrinkles, and hair, some of their features are exaggerated to reflect their comic look. Tintin's hair is always going to have that cow lick look no matter how hard the wind blows in the other direction. Haddock's nose and mouth are larger than they realistically should be. The heads of the INTERPOL agents are perfectly round circles. The opera singer has a large, beak-like nose that could poke your eye out. The only odd exception goes to the character of Sakharine, who's so close in facial proportion to reality, it's kind of unnerving. He looks like an actual human being, and with the proper lighting effect, you often confuse him as one. And the really scary part? He moves like an actual human being would. There's nothing stylized about his gestures or the way he carries himself, unlike the rest of the main cast which retains some parts of their cartoonish nature. In a way, Sakharine's design just doesn't belong in the film's overall aesthetic but somehow balances out the photo-realistic textures on the non-realistic character models.
One of the issues I had with the recent trailers for this movie was the odd feeling like the film was trying to be similar to the Uncharted video game franchise in some respect. With Spielberg channeling his former self and the overall aesthetic of the film's design, I can say with some confidence that this looks and feels like you are watching an Uncharted story play out with a different set of characters. Nathan Drake may have been replaced by Tintin, and there's no Sully to speak of in the cast, but it still starts out the same as all the Uncharted games thus far. A seemingly ordinary object is the secret to discovering a treasure lost in history, and everyone who wants to find it is willing to kill anyone that gets in their way, including the ones who just stumble upon it by accident. There's even a chase scene that plays out as if it came straight out of the Uncharted franchise! And if you see it in 3D? It's like being in a motion simulation ride at a theme park! A completely fun ride through an action set piece that left me with the words "Can we do that again?!" at the tip of my tongue. Seriously, it is an amazing action scene that cannot be spoiled but will be talked about by everyone that sees it.
Going in to the movie knowing nothing about the character or his stories, I left the film wanting more. This is an adventure film done the way it should be. A mystery that is engaging and exciting to solve along with the characters. Action that is fun and exciting to watch. Both being balanced by each other so that each is just as important as the other, making both equally memorable. And overall, it is a film that reminded me that I don't need to be previously invested in a franchise to enjoy a movie based on one if the film itself is done well and can stand on its own. This film does just that.
Spill Rating: Full Price