GENRE: Vengeful action flick with mutant powers
THE PITCH: This X-Men prequel fills in the backstory of Wolverine/Logan/James Howlett (Hugh Jackman), revealing a glimpse of his 19th-century Canadian childhood, his similarly powered psychotic brother Victor, aka Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), and the 1970s-era government conspiracy that gives him both a metal skeleton and a bloody-minded vendetta. Snikt!
MONEY SHOTS: The opening credits show Logan and Victor fighting in the Civil War, World Wars I and II and Vietnam. Logan and a team of Nam-era mutant commandos wreak havoc on an African diamond-smuggling compound. Wolverine takes on a helicopter in an appropriately big, dumb action scene. Louisianan mutant Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) channels his cool explosive powers through a walking stick and playing cards. The outlandish final fight takes place along the rim of a nuclear reactor coolant tower.
I-WANT-MY-MONEY-BACK SHOTS: As a kid, Wolverine shouts "Nooo!" to the heavens while wearing a red bathrobe. Schreiber, an otherwise menacing villain, looks pretty dumb loping on all fours. Kevin Durand sports rubbery, obese makeup as the immovable mutant bruiser the Blob.
BEST LINE: "You whip out a couple of swords at your ex-girlfriend's wedding, they'll never forget it," quips Ryan Reynolds as super-assassin Wade Wilson, later dubbed Deadpool. Reynolds also amusingly calls Victor's long, yellowed claws "bag-lady nails."
WORST LINE: "Why is the moon so lonely?" says Logan's girlfriend (Lynn Collins) when recounting a corny legend that gives him the Wolverine handle. Conniving General Stryker (Danny Huston) almost constantly intones lines like "If you go down this road, you're not going to like what you find."
BODY COUNT: Featuring near-constant shootings, stabbings and at least one beheading, the film's a PG-13 bloodbath with little actual blood. It features roughly as many fatalities as a Rambo movie, but surprisingly many cop-outs.
FLESH FACTOR: After getting his adamantium skeleton, Wolverine goes on a nude rampage, leaps into a waterfall and eventually hides out in an old couple's barn. In general, Jackman goes shirtless so often, his bare chest is kind of his equivalent to the Superman emblem.
POP REFERENCES: The big finale takes place at the site of a notorious nuclear accident. Numerous characters from X-Men lore turn up, including a teenage Cyclops. An actor from the other X-Men movies makes a cameo that raises its share of questions.
EXTRAS: Supposedly to counteract the pirating of an unfinished print of Wolverine onto the Internet, different versions of the film will feature different scenes at the end of the closing credits. (The one I saw involved Deadpool.) So you might want to see the film three to six times to see all the endings. But probably not.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: I know you shouldn't ask these kind of questions of prequels, but why is Schreiber's Sabretooth so different from the shaggy, hulking, taciturn Sabretooth played by Tyler Mane in the first X-Men movie? Mane didn't even bother to mention that he and Logan are 150-year-old half-brothers. Maybe he's some other guy named Sabretooth.
BETTER THAN OTHER X-MOVIES? No. Wolverine aims conspicuously lower, trading the mutant-as-social-metaphor themes of the previous films for a more conventional paramilitary slice-and-shoot-'em-up approach. It doesn't waste as many intriguing characters and storylines as X-Men: The Last Stand, but isn't anywhere near the excellence of X2: X-Men United, one of best superhero movies ever made.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Jackman remains an appealing tough guy, Schreiber and Huston make perfectly adequate villains, and the film features some memorably over-the-top imagery. But Tsotsi director Gavin Hood seems completely unable to tell the difference between thrilling pop operatics and exhausted clichés. He tolerates eyesore CGI effects, earache dialogue, and tortured prequel plotting. Wolverine tells us little about Logan that we didn't already know from the X-Men trilogy, and aspires to the level of a Charles Bronson revenge film. The adamantine claws have lost their edge.