It takes a long time to save the world in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." This special effects-driven, 3-D extravaganza does not know when to quit. Indeed, it's a lengthy summer blockbuster that will keep you in a dark movie theater for much of the summer.
There's no denying that the movie possesses a lot of entertainment value, but there's also no denying that director Michael Bay savors every explosion in a plot that blows something up every few minutes. It's a noisy spectacle that has no use for restraint.
That's really too bad, because a shorter running time would have made this more of an escapist treat.
The story itself is so basic that Bay really did not need to have his characters repeat plot points that will be obvious to millions of viewers around the world.
The Autobots have long since settled into a harmonious relationship with humanity. People are accustomed to having these huge metal contraptions dwelling among us; and, incidentally, it's still really neat watching the Autobots transform themselves into cars. If that doesn't improve car sales, nothing will.
The Autobots' metal hearts are in the right place, but their good nature and ethical determination to do the right thing will be put to the test when they're once again confronted by their longtime foes, the similarly metallic Decepticons. These bad guys make Darth Vader look like a Boy Scout.
A primal battle is waged in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," with our planet as the battlefield. The ultimate confrontation is an extended fight in downtown Chicago that manages to destroy more of the city than its great 19th-century fire ever did. Much of the fun in watching this movie could be described as destructive pleasure.
So many buildings are smashed that the winner won't have much left to rule. Metallic beings and American soldiers run around in the ruins, but there are very few civilians in a big-budget movie that certainly could have afforded to give us some crowd scenes.
One consequence of the relatively unpopulated city is that there essentially are no dead bodies in the streets. This makes for wholesome devastation that you can enjoy without feeling guilty.
Although Bay allows the ultimate battle to go on much too long, he stages individual sequences quite well. He also makes better strategic use of the 3-D process than some of the other recent sci-fi epics. Just be prepared for a lot of metal parts flying your way.
It's also enjoyable to track the complicating wrinkles that Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger work into that otherwise schematic showdown between Autobots and Decepticons. By way of intrigue-laden background, it turns out that the cold war-era space race between the Americans and the Soviets actually was to see who could first reach an alien space ship that crashed on the dark side of the moon. There's even a cameo appearance by the real astronaut Buzz Aldrin to bolster this extremely revisionist history.
The plot complications also involve some double-crossing characters, but everything is explained so bluntly and repeated so often that it almost seems inaccurate to refer to these plot developments as complications.
Among the human players, the most important returning figure is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), whose brief return to a quiet normal life ends when he is pulled back into this heavy metal war. The actor looks determined, runs a lot, shouts at the appropriate moments and definitely earns his pay.
Other cast members, most of them familiar from earlier installments, include Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, John Malkovitch and Frances McDormand. They chew the shattered scenery with conviction. In fact, Turturro looks like he could chew through metal.
Amid all these human fighters, mention also should be made of Sam's love interest, Carly, who is played by the slender beauty Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Considering that Carly narrowly escapes from a collapsing skyscraper and suffers numerous other threats to her health, she emerges without so much as a scratch on her lovely face.
The Decepticons threaten to wipe out mankind, but they're no match for the leading lady's makeup in a formulaic summer movie. Grade: B-
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (PG-13) is now playing at area theaters.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun