“Impress me!” demands horrible boss John Malkovich of Shia LaBeouf when the latter’s Sam Witwicky arrives for a job interview.
Those left cold by the last Transformers may well ask the same of Michael Bay before risking what looks likely to be his final orgy of Hasbro-inspired robo-carnage.
For them, good news. Transformers 3 (full title - Transformers: Dark Of The Moon) might struggle to equal the sheer exhilaration of Bay's 2007 trilogy-starter, but it’s a whole lot more coherent and fulfilling than Revenge Of The Fallen.
Yes, it’s punishingly long – the longest so far, in fact – and comes saddled with some excruciating attempts at comedy (the most painful involving The Hangover’s Ken Jeong as a LaBeouf-accosting conspiracy theorist).
Yet the clever hook (say, what if the Apollo 11 moon landing were a cover for some Alien-style exploration of a derelict Cybertron spacecraft?) provides a secure foundation for Bay’s customary bombast, while the devastation wreaked by snake-bot Soundwave makes it the most bad-ass Decepticon since Blackout.
Perhaps Ehren Kruger’s best move, though, is to ditch Fallen’s baffling, globe-hopping patchwork in favour of a straightforward earth invasion story that, like this year’s Battle: Los Angeles, adheres faithfully to the ID4 template.
Admittedly, it takes a while for the pieces to fall into place and for characters (flesh and metal) to reveal their true colours. But once they do, the stage is set for a final hour of über-destructive robot wars in the streets and skies of Chicago, complete with wing-suited commandos plummeting from the heavens, four climactic smackdowns and a terrific bit of skyscraper-toppling.
Now for the bad news. British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is awful – awful! – as LaBeouf’s new love interest, sucking the life out of every scene she appears in like some pneumatic Dyson sexbot.
Introduced with a leering pan up her Victoria’s Secret pins, she achieves the unlikely feat of making Megan Fox look like a proper actress, particularly at moments where she is required to be in peril.
Huntington-Whiteley is so terrible, in fact, she makes her co-stars bad too. LaBeouf, for one, has rarely looked so sweatily desperate than in scenes where he is obliged to simulate ardour. But then his own performance isn’t much to write home about either, pitched as it is at such a heightened level of consternation you fear he might pass out at any minute.
Elsewhere Frances McDormand gives good ball-breaker as a pushy Secretary of Defence (“Stop with the ma’am!”), while Alan Tudyk amuses mightily as the hair-trigger assistant of John Turturro’s oddball Sector 7 agent.
Leonard Nimoy, meanwhile, gets to recycle his “needs of the many” speech from Wrath Of Khan in his role as the reawakened superbot Sentinel Prime. Now that was a sequel...
A largely linear plot and some ingenious appropriation of 20th century history helps T3 correct most of T2’s deficiencies without really matching T1’s superior entertainment value and element of surprise.