(CBS) Early on, it was announced that the third installment of Transformers would be director Michael Bay's final dalliance with the billion-dollar franchise, but make no mistake about it : Bay does not go quietly into the good night with his swan song.
"Transformers : Dark of the Moon" is Bay's personal attempt to re-ignite the fire of a flagging 3-D market when it comes to the movies. "Avatar" set the bar high, but subsequent 3-D releases, which have become the norm rather than the exception, have fallen short. Many in the industry have been looking to "Transformers 3" to transform the landscape and make 3-D a lucrative, long-standing platform once again. If anyone can do it, Bay is the guy.
Known for his maniacal pursuit of special effects, unfathomable to any normal person, Bay succeeds in bringing a level of action to "Dark of the Moon" that is so unrelenting and so intense it gives new meaning to the term sensory overload. The pace is punishing. At a bare minimum, it will leave you breathless. On the other end of the spectrum, it is akin to an assault on the mind.
We are eased into the frenzy. The story opens with a revisiting of the Apollo mission to the moon, this time with a never-before -disclosed caveat by the U.S. administration at the time - to investigate a strange spacecraft that crash-landed on the dark side of the moon. Classified and top secret, the results of the investigation were never made public and only a handful of people were ever aware of the "true" aim of the mission. Turns out the vessel that crashed was a Transformers' spaceship.
Fast-forward to the present day and Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is trying hard to land a job that will put him on the path to greatness, after being awarded a presidential medal and receiving an Ivy league education, courtesy of the government. Witwicky is trying to land himself on the path to greatness, partly so he can feel good about himself again, but also so he can get his visiting parents off his back. Gone is his former girlfriend (Megan Fox), but not to worry, there is new eye candy to drool over in the form of Carly, played by British Victoria's Secret.
While LaBeouf goes through an amusing round of unsuccessful job interviews, before landing a spot as a mail room clerk with help from thanks to John Malkovich (who is genius as a hard-to-impress corporate powerhouse),
Optimus Prime and the Autobots return, once again trying to uncover evil Decepticons. The Autobots work with the government under the leadership of Josh Duhamel, who commands an Autobot task force charged with rooting out evil.
Conflict arises with the appearance of Sentinel Prime, a mentor to Optimus Prime and a former leader of the Autobots , who was long thought gone. His reappearance leads to a brutal and colossal battle that is the centerpiece of Bay's film and signals the end of the planet.
The set pieces are long. At more than two and a half hours, Bay takes his time, playing out long, loud action sequences, with editing seemingly at a minimum. The result seems to be long fluid shots that add power to the 3-D technology . It is obvious that a lot of money was thrown at this film; Bay appears to have been given carte blanche when it came to achieving totally uninhibited, overwhelming special effects.
In fact, the entire final hour of the film contains virtually no dialogue. It is, instead, a roller coaster ride of nonstop, mind-numbing action as Chicago, the city in which it is set, is all but destroyed - piece by piece.
The overarching result is one of overkill , not genius. The unrelenting nature of the battle between the Decepticons and the Autobots turns LaBeouf's character, given lots of screen time and depth at the movie's start, into an afterthought.
At two hours, the film would have been brilliant, with flashes of humor to provide respite to all the action and provide some form of balance. Instead, in the last hour, the plot falls by the wayside to give fans of the franchise what they want.
What they get, however, is a kind of superaction hari-kari. But Bay knows his audience. I left my IMAX screening needing an aspirin. My 15-year old son, however, proclaimed it was one of the best films he had seen in a long time.
Pre-midnight 3-D sneaks coupled with Wednesday's opening have yielded more than $42 million in ticket sales domestically thus far, giving "Transformers : Dark of the Moon" bragging rights to having secured the biggest opening day of 2011.
It beat out "Pirates of the Caribbean 4," which racked up $34 million on its' opening day. Exit polling in the under 25 age group range, saw male viewers rate the film an "A,", while overall, in the same poll, 62percfent of males gave the film an "A-minus."
Still, the third installment'sdid not manage to beat those of " Transformers 2." With the long weekend just kicking off , it will be interesting to see what "Transformer 3's" cumulative take will be, both domestically and internationally, where it is expected to be soar.
Whether you enjoy the frenetic pace, or prefer your sci-fi action flicks dialed back, one thing is sure, Michael Bay intends to takeout of this franchise with one big bang.