Review in a Hurry: The third live-action Transformers film features some stupidly amazing action, but falls short storywise in its lack of a decent villain. Also, while the much ballyhooed 3-D does force director Michael Bay to cool it on the quick cuts, it's not as effectively utilized as in, say, Green Lantern or Kung Fu Panda 2.
The Bigger Picture: Despite a phenomenally huge take at the box office, Revenge of the Fallen was generally perceived to be as hated as Jar Jar Binks, and so movie three goes back to the formula of the first film, with downtown Chicago getting trashed instead of whatever fictional city downtown L.A. was supposed to be in part one.
Unfortunately, it also duplicates the original's skimpy use of arch-villain Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving), who has a cool new look but almost no effect on the plot whatsoever—it's as if Weaving were only available for one day in the recording booth.
The vast majority of machine villainy this time comes courtesy of generic drones, with newcomer Shockwave (voiced by original Megatron Frank Welker) registering less as a character than the giant robot sandworm he rides.
On the human side, Patrick Dempsey makes a species-appropriate foe for Shia LaBeouf's Sam, who's now living in D.C. looking for his first job, while shacking up with new girlfriend Carly (model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in her big acting debut, managing to pull off being sweet, at least). The plot involves an alternate history of the space race, complete with awkward splice-ups of actual news footage of presidents (prior and current) and badly made-up actors of same.
Original Autobot leader Sentinel Prime (voice of Leonard Nimoy, who's excellent) is still buried on the moon; when the current crop of Transformers goes on a mission to revive him, a master plan involving a long-dormant ultimate weapon kicks into gear.
And this wouldn't be a Michael Bay Transformers movie without a broad range of total stereotypes. New robots on the good-side come in Irish, Cockney, and Spanish caricatures, while Alan Tudyk reprises his irritating gay-German shtick from 28 Days as John Turturro's random new sidekick (Ken Jeong, of all people, comes off as one of the most restrained performers in the film). On both the man and machine side, the story such as it is gets moved forward by totally new characters we've never seen before but are expected to accept as longtime allies. At times, this feels like The Room with robots.
All the action stuff is suitably epic and has seemingly been staged with criticisms of the other movies in mind. There are more wide shots to establish the geography of the robot fights, and the combatants come in more colors than gray—heck, a couple of the Autobots, being NASCAR-styled, have giant advertisements on their chests.
Is it glorious excess?
Yes...unless you're a fan of Megatron or Starscream. If this is truly the end of a trilogy, its main antagonists should have played more of a part.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Some really dubious moralizing towards the end comes off as unnecessarily, wrong-headedly political. If this is all meant to be an allegory for current events, it's a murky one at best.