Polygon counter is a utility in max.
It is under the tab that has the hammer at the top (utilities tab).
under utilities click "More" then choose polygon counter.
Choose triangles rather then quads to get an accurate count.
Personally I call it a tricount just to be specific.
If you use editable poly you will get the polycount, but use editable mesh and you get the tricount. Editable poly is a more developed toolset though.
50,000 sounds very small to me for a film character to be honest.
Those guys arent worrying about real time rendering.