You just knew that when Spielberg and Jackson embraced 3D performance-capture animation, the results would be seriously eye-catching. And yes, this film looks amazing. It also borrows enjoyably from Spielberg's entire back catalog.
So it's a shame the story and characters aren't stronger.
When intrepid young journalist Tintin (Bell) buys a model ship called The Unicorn, he's suddenly launched into a mystery. Pursued by the relentless treasure-hunting Sakharine (Craig) and quizzed by the blustery detectives Thompson and Thompson (Pegg and Frost), Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy try to unlock The Unicorn's secret. This involves tracking down Captain Haddock (Serkis) on the high seas, then teaming up for a breathless chase through a North African desert to a bustling market town.
Spielberg's clearest reference point is Indiana Jones, as Tintin is pursued through every scene by Sakharine and his goons. The film is essentially one long hyperactive set piece, and it's pretty spectacular. There's barely time for a spot of plot exposition before the next chase sequence begins, and Spielberg fills the frame with fantastical visual touches, slapstick comedy and witty action beats, many taken from his earlier films.
What's missing is a specific Tintin style. This is a lot of fun to watch, but there's nothing to it: no subtext, no resonance, no emotional connection. The cast is great both physically and vocally, and the characters are gorgeously animated down to the pores on their skin. Yet there's an odd blankness in their eyes, as well as an eerie slowness that makes them look like they live in low-gravity. And Spielberg tries to brush off the intense violence that accompanies every scene.
On the other hand, the settings are simply stunning, with splendidly detailed cityscapes and a beautiful overall quality of light and shadows. Spielberg also uses playfully bravura camera movement that would be impossible in the real world. For example, the astonishing climactic chase, which is fairly nonsensical, is shot as if it's one long take. These kinds of touches make the film an entertaining romp, as Tintin follows one clue after another and indulges in his unquenchable thirst for adventure. But let's hope future episodes have more heart.