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Is 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' a terrible or terrific "3?"

The reviews are in, and though most depict Michael Bay's third "Transformer" films as more of the same -- make that much, much more of the same -- a few souls have said they've seen the Bay light and now understand that there's some kind of vision or aesthetic behind his excessive mayhem. Or else they've just been beaten into submission.

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I disagree vehemently with this charitable view, but it's a reasonable position. Series -- or as we now must call them, "franchises" -- often start off with a crowd-pleaser, then don't actually deliver a genuine piece of art or entertainment until an entry or two later. In many a series, the best film is the third. It may take three tries for a series to master the tone that's perfect for its heroes and their trademark exploits, even if if they're shape-changing robots with names like Bumblebee and Optimus Prime.

Not to get all geezer on you, but I thought the most thrilling Johnny Weissmuller jungle epic was "Tarzan Escapes," which of course wouldn't have existed without "Tarzan the Ape Man" and "Tarzan and His Mate." With all the exposition out of the way, the filmmakers could tease our anticipation of Tarzan's entrance before throwing them into action so headlong and intense that Tarzan's battles with some bats had to be deleted when preview audiences got too excited.

And the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope comedy adventures, the Road movies, hit their peak with "Road to Morocco." The stars are so sublimely at ease that everything they say is funny in a ticklish way, and it seems supremely natural even for camels to crack wise in their presence - though the killer moment, unscripted, comes when one of them spits smack in Bob Hope's face. (The Library of Congress selected Road to Morocco as one of the essential films to be preserved in the National Film Registry in 1996.)

In the Live section today (click here), I briefly laud three other terrific 3s: "Goldfinger," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."

I could have added "Toy Story 3" to the movie-franchise Hall of Fame -- and put abominations like "Jaws 3-D" in a special rogues gallery.

What No. 3s do you despise or favor?

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