When we all heard the news a year-and-a-half ago that director Michael Bay was looking to have Transformers 3 be “more emotion, less action”, your initial thought (as mine was) may have been something along the lines of “Wha? Huh?”, but fear not, folks. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is everything you would expect from a Bay-fueled bit of popcorn mayhem… and a heckuva lot more.

Bay has made a point (a la George Lucas with the Star Wars prequels and even Stanley Kubrick) of telling movie theaters the optimal light and sound specs for showing Dark of the Moon, and once you see it, you’ll know why. Say whatever you want about Bay, but there’s no denying the fact that he does everything he can to give the audience its money’s worth.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is Bay’s biggest, loudest, craziest, and most intense film yet. And it and James Cameron’s Avatar are the only live-action films that I can think of in which the 3D was not only warranted but actually added to the experience. In a big way.

The plot is much more coherent than the garbled mess that was Revenge of the Fallen. The Autobots and Decepticons are still locked in a battle, only now they’re racing to the moon to find ‘The Pillars’ that can be used to rebuild their home planet of Cybertron. There are a couple of twists and turns along the way, but by and large you won’t have to think too much at all. Ahhh.

Shia LeBeouf is back as Sam Witwicky, unemployed and living (quite happily) off his rich, new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whitely). When Decepticons start going after the group of 60s-era NASA scientists who first noticed the Pillars (which, we’re told, were the real reason behind the space race), Sam inserts himself back into the fold, running to Autobot headquarters in D.C. to help save the day.

Eventually it’s all just leading up to the big battle that dominates the last 45 minutes of the movie. As all of Chicago is destroyed, we get a front row seat to the Bay-hem. And it’s definitely all it’s cracked up to be.

The 3D is off-the-charts. Not content to just have a couple robots thrust their first at our heads, Bay went all out to make sure Dark of the Moon is a true 3D experience from the word ‘go’. Add to that all of the standard Bay-esque explosions, slow-mo balletic violence, and mind-blowing visual effects, and the flick becomes a rousing success. And for everyone concerned about the dimness that comes with having to look through the glasses, don’t be. The projector lamp is ratcheted up so much that they’re actually more effective as sunglasses than anything else. You’ll be glad you have them on.

Aside from LeBeouf (who’s perfectly fine as Sam) and Huntington-Whitely (whose Victoria’s Secret spreads have more life than her performance here), the cast includes returnees Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Sam’s quirky parents, and also John Turturro, who quite easily steals the show right out from under everyone as Simmons. Ken Jeong and Alan Tudyk are also brilliant in minor roles as a NASA scientist and as Simmons’ assistant.

It’s the Big Three (Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, and John Malkovich), though, who elevate Dark of the Moon to the next level, acting-wise. There’s just something about seeing a couple of well-respected actors on the screen that just gives the festivities a little more oomph.

The script by Ehren Kruger was surprisingly adequate. There are no fewer than a half-dozen moments that had the audience laughing out loud (in a good way, thankfully), and the decision to ‘dumb things down’ also helped immensely, allowing you to just sit back and get blown away by the mindless fun. Sure, there are several lines that will have you rolling your eyes (including every word that comes out of Huntington-Whitely’s mouth), but for the most part the script isn’t terrible.

Both LeBeouf and Bay have already said that this is it for their participation in the Transformers franchise. And, frankly, there’s no better way that Paramount could ever hope to go out than with Dark of the Moon. They saved the best (and biggest) for last.

4/5 stars