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Third ‘Transformers’ film shoots for the moon … and hits

Dark of the Moon,’ in theaters today.

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Coming off the widely panned “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” there was virtually nowhere else for Michael Bay to take the “Transformers” franchise but up.

Thankfully, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” shoots for the moon – literally – and hits, delivering pure summer spectacle that won’t erode as many brain cells as its predecessor.

In fact, the third and likely final film in Bay’s explosive franchise, “Dark of the Moon” is pure visual splendor, the first film since “Avatar” that is truly a must-see in 3-D.

There’s really no need to provide an intricate plot synopsis. Just know that a disconcerting CG mock-up of former President John F. Kennedy orders the U.S. to send the Apollo missions to the moon after tracking a UFO that crashes into its surface.

In an attempt to return to their home planet of Cybertron, which is in ruins after a civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons, Sentinel Prime (who crashed the ship into the moon in a desperate attempt to flee the war-torn planet) and the rest of the Transformers fight over whether it’s OK to sacrifice the people of Earth if it means reviving their home planet.

Somewhere amid all of this, Sam (Shia LeBeouf) bags yet another girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) who’s way out of his league, though he’s struggling to get a job after graduating from college. Then comes the big shabang when the whole of downtown Chicago is laid to ruins.

Sure, the story sounds (and is) flimsy, but the 3-D is so engrossing that it more than makes up for what the script lacks.

Seemingly one of the few tentpole releases actually filmed in 3-D, “Dark of the Moon” is the equivalent of a visual orgasm. Things explode, freefall and Shia LeBeouf directly into your face, and yet, save for only a handful of instances, it never feels overtly gimmicky. Instead, it’s all part of the spectacle.

That’s what makes “Dark of the Moon” such a fun watch. It doesn’t have an award-winning screenplay, so it would be unwise to walk into the cinema expecting as much. Walk into it expecting sensory and auditory bliss and you’ll get your money’s worth.

You see, entertainment value – 2 ½ freakin’ 3-D hours of it here – is what makes “Dark of the Moon” a good time. Apart from a few head-scratching moments, you can’t help but be absorbed by the environment, the scale and the 3-D wonder of it all.

That said, “Dark of the Moon” is at its best when it’s in the midst of its testosterone-pumping action pieces, not when it’s focusing on the deplorable humans of Bay’s “Transformers” universe. The first couple acts sputter along relatively slowly and without too much action, and in the “Transformers” world, that’s unforgivable.

John Malkovich and Frances McDormand, who have both appeared in acclaimed films, star in major supporting roles. However, their characters are overwrought by so much juvenile silliness that one can’t help but wonder if they were lured to this film by the promise of a hefty paycheck.

“Hangover” star Ken Jeong, “Grey’s Anatomy” leading man Patrick Dempsey, “Star Trek’s” Leonard Nimoy and even Buzz Aldrin also lend their talents to “Dark of the Moon,” but many of them are unfortunately wasted.

Then there’s the absence of Megan Fox.

Though Fox certainly didn’t turn in award-winning performances in the first two “Transformers” entries, she was missed here. Huntington-Whiteley is entirely wooden and boring, but that doesn’t matter in a “Transformers” film nearly as much as her looks, which, sadly, don’t measure up to Fox’s.

“Dark of the Moon” won’t garner any major awards, but that’s OK. It’s not a flick for the intellectual crowd, but for anyone looking to satisfy the inner 13-year-old boy in them, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” serves up enough fun, 3-D grandeur and “YES!” moments to make its shortcomings forgivable.

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 5)

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