There has been some debate around the WW office whether American kids even recognize Belgian comics legend Hergé's teen journalist protagonist, Tintin, when they see him. After this week—when Steven Spielberg brings his take on the spiky-haired sleuth to theatergoers—it'll probably be a moot point. Spielberg's CGI Tintin film, like Christopher Nolan's Batman pictures or Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, will soon define Hergé's cast of iconic characters for a generation.

That turns out not to be such a bad thing. While Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin is a tad higher-octane than its comic-book progenitors, the director clearly has a soft spot for the books, which he honors in the spectacular opening credits and the film's opening scene (where he goes so far as to cast a CGI version of Hergé as a portrait painter). The director's love for his source material translates quite well in scenes with bit players like bumbling twin investigators Thompson and Thomson or kindly Nestor the butler.

Tintin himself, though, is an inherently tough leading man to tackle. Hergé never really gave the boy reporter a backstory and refused to peg his age or family history in the books. Instead of filling in the blanks with melodrama, though, Spielberg assays his wide-eyed protagonist with seasick camera sweeps and soundtracks every moment with emotionally exploitative John Williams scoring. In the film's early scenes, even Tintin's lovable dog, Snowy—unimpeachably cute in the books—seems to have gone Hollywood. But as we prepare ourselves for another action movie by the numbers, something funny happens. Something really funny. His name is Captain Haddock.

Haddock, Tintin's partner in adventure journalism and a hopeless drunk, is played by Andy Serkis. Haddock is the film's true lead, and he is absolutely brilliant. It should surprise no one that Serkis, the leading go-to guy for CGI work from Gollum to the Planet apes, lends Haddock incredible expressions, but I didn't know he could put a film on his shoulders. I also didn't know that devastating alcoholism could be so amusing. Booze is to Haddock what spinach is to Popeye, something that should raise the ire of AA types.

As soon as Haddock is introduced, we start to care. Then The Adventures of Tintin takes off and Spielberg brings us the most inspired action sequences since Inception: Epic, funny, Rube Goldberg-style cavalcades of comic chaos and destruction that honestly thrill and make fine use of 3-D technology without engaging in overtly cheesy camera tricks. It may be classic Spielbergian spectacle more than Hergé understatement, but damn it feels good, whether you're familiar with Tintin or not. PG.

82 SEE IT: The Adventures of Tintin opens Wednesday, Dec. 21, at Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Cinetopia, Cornelius, Pioneer Place, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Hilltop, Lloyd Mall, Movies on TV, Sherwood, Tigard, Wilsonville and Sandy.