For better or worse, there are particular hallmarks that compose the films in the Transformers series. Audiences are sure to get stunning visual effects, over-the-top stunts and one of the most amazingly beautiful female specimens to ever be in the movies. Unfortunately, audiences also have to contend with endurance-testing action sequences, inappropriate humor at inappropriate times and some dodgy writing. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, by and large, offers more of the same, but it separates itself from the previous films by finding a more palatable mixture of its elements.

A few significant changes have taken place since Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and the Autobots saved the planet…again. He graduated college, but his main squeeze dumped him, leaving him single until he met his current goddess of a girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) after getting a medal from President Obama. Despite his accolades, Sam has been pushed out of the world-protection business and, more importantly, can’t find a decent job to save his life. Meanwhile, Optimus Prime and his cohorts continue to patrol the planet for Decepticon activity. The Autobots soon discover that the humans have withheld a vital piece of information from them regarding a downed Autobot spaceship on the dark side of the moon, which holds powerful technology that the Decepticons can use to take over Earth.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon benefits greatly from being the third movie in the series, because audiences know exactly what to expect from the characters, actors and script. Even the questionable aspects offer a bit of weird comfort and familiarity, like Sam’s goofy mother. After the first film, audiences had hoped she’d be nixed for the sequel, but instead there she was, prattling on and acting inappropriately. So when she appears again in this installment there’s a sense of completion – the film would be missing something intrinsic if she were edited out. Surprisingly, the eye-rolling is kept to a minimum and the “irritating” scenes feel more like homage to the irritating scenes of the previous episodes.

That’s not to say that everything works smoothly in this film, either. The filmmakers seemed to struggle with giving Sam a story arc that would preserve his appeal as an “everyman” so they concocted a dull plot that features Sam dealing with ridiculous characters. Consider John Malkovich as the fake-baked Bruce Brazos – a man who decorates his office with pictures of himself in various martial arts poses and yells at employees who break the color scheme of the office. There’s also Ken Jeong as Jerry Wang who puts Sam in an awkward position in the men’s room. It’s fine to have silly characters, but these characters have little to no bearing on the story and exist solely as contrived comedic foils in Sam’s life, which seems wholly unnecessary to the story overall.

Then there’s Sam himself who has grown less appealing as the Transformers series goes on. His lack of confidence and uncertainty were fine when audiences first met him, but after three films there’s a certain level of assuredness viewers will expect from that character. Unfortunately, Sam is at his whiniest in Dark of the Moon. He feels cut out of the Autobot program so he complains. He can’t find a job where he matters so he complains. He isn’t secure in his relationship since his girlfriend works for the handsome and rich Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) so he complains. Whether or not his complaints are warranted is beside the point. Hardships and challenges befall everyone; how a person handles them is one of the ways people can distinguish heroes from everyone else. Sam doesn’t feel heroic here.

It’s the action, however, that will keep audiences entertained. The robots look as amazing as they ever have and the visual effects team seems to have the fights down to a science, slowing down sequences when appropriate, so that audiences are never confused about what’s going on. The scenes featuring humans taking on Transformers – especially one-on-one – is still a little lacking, but that’s a minor complaint. The action set-pieces, however, are pure awesome and watching characters slide down the outside of a high rise to their almost certain death is thrilling in all the ways blockbuster action films should be.

From the very beginning, it’s obvious that Transformers: Dark of the Moon sets out to achieve something a little more serious than the previous offerings in the series. The alternate version of America’s history in space exploration is very well done, incorporating real life footage with staged and extending the prologue to set the audience up for something epic. While the film doesn’t quite meet that goal, audiences will still feel satisfied at having experienced something special.