IT’S a movie riddled with faults, but on the awesome-spectacle front TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (12: Paramount) raises the action bar to a completely new jaw-dropping level.
This second sequel’s screenplay is ragged, the cheap humour is miscalculated, it’s far too long at 147 minutes and British newcomer Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, replacing Megan Fox, sucks the life from every scene.
Yet despite all of that, there’s a technically sublime mother of all battle sequences lasting 60 minutes that will take your breath away.
The story opens by telling how the 1960s space race was launched in response to an alien vessel landing on the moon and how that proves to be part of an elaborate Decepticon plan to reshape the universe and enslave humankind. So it’s left to Shia LaBeouf and the Autobots to save the world again.
From the creepy Apollo 11 lunar restaging and car-crash robot conversions to the spectacular decimation of Chicago and – best of all – an amazing sequence in a tipping skyscraper, director Michael Bay overwhelms the senses and leaves the viewer exhausted.
> The cheesy charms of the TV cliffhanger superhero series of old are reproduced in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (12: Paramount).
In this sturdy Marvel Comics yarn of red-blooded heroes and dastardly villains, a sickly asthmatic is enhanced to the peak of human perfection to help the US war effort.
Whether he’s a CGI head on a 90lb weakling body or muscled up – thanks to an experimental serum – in patriotic uniform, complete with indestructible shield, Chris Evans’ performance in the title role is engaging.
He’s perfectly matched by Tommy LeeJones’ gruff colonel, sassy love interest Hayley Atwell and Hugo Weaving as the power-crazed ‘Nazi’ Red Skull.
Gung ho derring-do, war movie cliches and sci-fi paraphernalia fit together well in a pleasingly retro environment.
> That fine actress Kristin Scott Thomas has always comfortably switched between English- and French-language films, although her more rewarding roles have recently tended to come from across the Channel.
Moving drama SARAH’S KEY (12: Studio Canal) is a good case in point as Scott Thomas is superb as a Paris-based American journalist preparing an article on the notorious Vel d’Hiv round-up of 1942 when thousands of Jews were arrested by French police and transported to camps.
To her horror, she discovers that her own husband’s family appears to be implicated in the shameful episode, with their old home holding a dark secret involving a young Jewish girl (Melusine Mayance).
Scott Thomas’s modern-day investigation is subtly contrasted with the tragic wartime experiences of Mayance’s title character to show how one innocent mistake can resonate across time.
> Definitely not leaving the best until last, THE SMURFS (U: Sony) is a feature-length movie with those little blue creatures who have been charming – and sickening – children and adults since they were dreamt up by Belgian cartoonist Peyo in 1958.
They went from cartoon to TV franchise and now this, starring Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays as soon-to-be parents who find themselves protectors of a band of Smurfs fleeing from evil magician Gargamel (Hank Azaria) in modern-day New York.
Despite one rather inappropriate Marilyn Monroe reference, grown-ups will find it barely entertaining and I can’t see today’s kids loving the tiny figures named after their character traits.
At least Harris deserves some praise for bringing a comedic grace akin to that of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins to his otherwise banal role.
You may also pick out the grandfatherly tones of Hollywood legend Jonathan Winters voicing Papa Smurf.