The Adventures of Tintin
Okay, technically Tintin has not underperformed. Opening first in Europe, it had earned some $250 million before U.S. audiences even had the option of seeing it. And yet, when the time came, Americans mostly chose to not exercise that option. And that's a shame, because Tintin is easily the most fun I had at a movie theater in 2011.
Tintin is an unironically intrepid boyscout of a character who is somehow not obnoxious. The story begins when he buys a model of a ship at a flea market only to discover that there's suddenly quite a bit of interest in this item. As a freelance journalist (although he looks a hair too young to have a full-time job and live on his own), Tintin takes it upon himself to investigate the mystery of the ship. The action takes off from there and never slows down until the end. Some critics have complained about the relentless pace of the movie, but I found it exhilarating.
Also exhilarating was the discovery that Spielberg can still design an action sequence like a director 40 years his junior. Better, actually, since his experience gives him more confidence in his shot compositions and timing. Pay particular attention to the virtuosic chase through Bagghar, which plays out as one long, unbroken shot. Spielberg effortlessly maneuvers his camera around characters, sets, vehicles and explosions, moving all the pieces around precisely without feeling stagy. You're so drawn into the action that you may not even notice this is one continuous shot.
The motion capture computer animation may be a turnoff for some. That was certainly my biggest hesitation about going to see this movie. We all have the same complaints - dead eyes, plasticine skin, the revolting uncanny valley effect. But I actually think they found the right range of realism for the characters in Tintin, leaving them cartoony enough to avoid appearing repellent (with the exception of the Milanese Nightingale, who I found distracting). Hats off to the character designers.
I'd never heard of Tintin before going to see this movie. The comics dating back to the 1920s, the cartoon series in the early '90s, the enduring worldwide fame of the character... I knew nothing about any of it. All I know -- all that matters -- is that I got swept up in this movie pretty much from the first frame, and had a great time the whole way through. A brilliant, globe-trotting action-adventure, Tintin is the movie Indiana Jones 4 should have been. If you haven't already, check it out.