As even Michael Bay has admitted, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" had almost nowhere to go but up after the writers' strike-affected, audience-alienating previous installment.

And insofar as Bay and company had something to prove — and to improve — this time around, they've succeeded. While "Dark of the Moon" isn't currently the highest rated film in the franchise, according to the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator, the general consensus among critics is that the new 3-D flick is best of the "Transformers" bunch.

That's not to suggest reviews have been universally positive; many have been as brutal to the film as the film's robots have been to certain American cities. Reviewers have taken issue with poor plotting, weak characters and brain-scrambling action set pieces. But then there are a slew of reviewers utterly onboard with what Bay has created, celebrating some of the finest 3-D visuals since "Avatar" and a story that is the most fully fleshed out of the series. For those opinions and others, take a deep dive into the "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" reviews.

The Story
"A sweet prologue (marred only by a phony-looking digital JFK) recounts the war for Cybertron and the real reason behind the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s. Cut to the present where Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) struggles to find his first post-college job, while the Autobots led by Optimus Prime and the U.S. military's NEST team led by Lt. Col. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) work in tandem to take out the remaining Decepticons around the world. However, the evil 'bots eventually get the upper hand and begin an invasion to conquer the Earth with Chicago as Ground Zero in this final war between the Autobots/humans and Decepticons. There's more going on, but for the sake of spoilers we'll keep it at that. Transformers: Dark of the Moon definitely has more of a plot than either of its predecessors. There are genuine stakes this time." — Jim Vejvoda, IGN

The 3-D
"[For] the first time since 'Avatar,' I am going to recommend that you find the biggest and best 3-D theater you can find and buy yourself a ticket, because 'Transformers: Dark Of the Moon,' especially seen in IMAX 3-D, is an overwhelming sensory experience. The sound mix alone is more exciting than anything in the billion-dollar-bore of 'Pirates 4.' This is gigantic action we've never seen before, and Bay's reaction to shooting and cutting his film for 3-D is to get better at what he does. It raised his game, and as a result, I feel like we just saw a dare thrown down by one of Hollywood's biggest action specialists: 'Top this.' — Drew McWeeny, HitFix

The Comparisons
"Bay's hammering technique works, in a commercial sense. Executive producer Steven Spielberg is the richer for it. But it's telling to compare any good minute in Spielberg's 'War of the Worlds,' for example, with any of the 153 minutes in 'Dark of the Moon.' The former, which isn't even Spielberg at his best, offers the thrill and the uneasy, complicated spectacle of destruction you get from a first-rate entertainer. Bay's endless love of nastiness and chrome and aggression offers less. And that's the only 'less' about it." — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

The Characters
"All that matters is the long, slow slog to the Chicago-set, theater-rattling finale, which seems to last about four hours. That's not a compliment, by the way. There's so much potential in a Transformer, which can, after all, transform into anything. But Bay misses every opportunity to make something interesting out of his characters; instead, he's content to spend his enormous budget on grinding destruction so generic and visually convoluted, it's often hard to tell who we're supposed to be rooting for." — Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News

The Final Word
"More than either of the previous films, this 'Transformers 3' feels like an ultra-violent version of the two-dimensional cartoon it's based on. I think I'm almost alright with that, when it's done this well, in this kind of summer blockbuster. We'd probably all be happier watching another movie like 'Inception,' but as long as those movies still get made, I guess there's nothing wrong in sitting down with a 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' once in awhile." — Josh Tyler, Cinema Blend

Check out everything we've got on "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

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