This movie is so suffused with Steven Spielberg’s style that it was almost unnecessary to list him as a director. That’s not even a criticism. This movie could very well have been shot live action as an Indiana Jones film and been held up favorably against Raiders of the Lost Ark. I can imagine it now, Tintin replaced by Jones, Haddock by Marcus. The movie has the same energy and momentum of Raiders, with an almost perfectly complimentary amount of slapstick to the serious drama. Of course, that’s perhaps not surprising, given that Spielberg is on record as having been a fan of the Tintin comics even back when he was doing Indiana Jones.
The movie is by no means perfect, and fails to really make any point in the end. Haddock, with his family legacy of shame, grows only by minutia by the end, and largely only to fulfill the movies many jokes. Tintin himself, in the Indiana Jones style, has character but not much history. We learn little of Tintin beyond the events that got him into his immediate situation and are left to derive his relationships to other through context. Thompson and Thomson would have been a complete mystery had I not seen other Tintin stories before, as little is done to establish their identity.
The villain doesn’t even get a whole lot of meaningful development either as he spends the film trying to get revenge for something that happened not to him, but to his distant ancestor. In fact, this is a place where using someone like Hitler, or a member of the Third Reich easily simplifies things because you don’t NEED to establish their motivation, we all already know it. Meanwhile, the villainous Sakharine (played by Daniel Craig) has only his character design and faceless henchmen to point to his evil intentions.
It’s sometimes hard to say this as a fan of older films, but the simple fact remains that even if this movie was every bit as great as Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade, I’ve seen those movies before and I’m going to be less impressed by them now. Tintin doesn’t add anything to the Spielberg legacy beyond its use of CGI, and that was purely a technical achievement. There’s nothing here that couldn’t have been done with practical effects, probably more cheaply as well.
I think it’s a symptom of the entrenched director that overcoming technical hurdles are an accomplishment in and of themselves. I certainly sympathize with the difficulty in getting CGI to look natural, especially given the busy locations used in this film, but I’m not going to enjoy a movie simply because of its use of CGI. That’s a means to an end, not the point. It’s not more important in the grand scheme of things than getting squibs set up right to make bullet holes in walls during firefights.
Ultimately, this is the most damning part of the film. Spielberg managed to re-create one of his masterpieces using CGI but didn’t manage to improve it enough to make it stand out against a nearly thirty year old film. Good story, excellent action, some quirky but enjoyable humor, and a tease for a future film that may no longer get made. Overall an admirable attempt, but not enough to break new ground.