At long last I was able to see it!
First of all, I have to say I am SO glad that I waited to see it with captions. Yes, it was hard that everyone else got to see the film first, but I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much if I hadn't been able to understand what everyone was saying. So praise God for advancing technology that allows me to experience some films the same way others do!
(BTW -- if you or a friend have a hearing impariment and you want to find a captioned showing to attend, simply type your location in at www.captionfish.com and it'll give you all the captioned showings in your area)
Anyhow, back to X-Men. What's the verdict?
Having gotten over all of the changes long ago (and done plenty of ranting about it!), I am able to say now that I loved the movie for what it was. Were there changes I would have made were I the director? Yes, of course. Yet it is amazing how well everything fit together in this film. The script was extremely well written and all the pieces fit together perfectly. If one accepts the movie as belonging, not to Earth 616, but to a parallel universe (think along the lines of "The Ultimates") it is a lot easier to enjoy the film.
Magneto and Xavier were fantastic. In fact, while Magneto fully met my expectations, Xavier exceeded them. McAvoy was even better than I was expecting --- perfectly cast in the role of Professor X. This was the role (imho) that he was born to play.
Mystique (usually called Raven in this film) was delightfully re-imagined as an adopted sister of Xavier. While I will always miss her obsession with protecting her adopted daughter Rogue, this version of her is equally compelling and perhaps even more fun to watch. The love triangle between her, Hank and Magneto was also perfectly written, and there is definitely room in the future for Azazel to become Nightcrawler's father.
Moira McTaggart was a pleasant surprise. While her backstory and occupation are 100% different than her comic history, her personality is spot on. I really believed I was watching Moira (even though the 616 Scottish Scientist Moira would have been appalled at the thought of being a US CIA agent.)
Beast and Banshee were also marvelously done. Endearing, sweet, and - (apart from Banshee's lack of Irishness), quite faithful to their 616 counterparts (which was really nice to see).
Havok is the one First Class member that I would have liked to see more of. We got the least of his backstory and his character felt very underdeveloped. Hopefully this will all get fleshed out more in the sequels.
Darwin's appearance is so short that I wish they had kept it a secret. I suppose that wasn't possible, but I have high hopes for seeing him again. (Don't believe me? Pick up a copy of "Deadly Genesis")
The one character that made less than no sense to me was Angel Salvadore. A strange choice from the beginning, her defection without any prior foreshadowing was perhaps one of the weakest links of the film. The actress was quite good, however, and I hope they give her more to do in a sequel.
Sebastian Shaw was fantastically played by Kevin Bacon. His motivations were exactly what were needed in a villian for this film. My only problem? His character seemed far more like Nathaniel Essex (Mr. Sinister) to me than Sebastian Shaw. I mean, Essex was the geneticist, he was the one who was actually alive in WWII, he was the sadistic scientist... and so on and so forth. So while I LIKED Shaw's character, I suspect that they only named him Shaw instead of Essex because they wanted Shaw's powers and his connection to the Hellfire Club.
And of course, they wanted the Hellfire Club so that they could bring in Emma Frost.
Ah Emma Frost. I'd heard so many disappointing things about her ahead of time that I went in with very low expectations for her (Those of you who know me will remember that Emma is one of my absolutely favorite Marvel characters). To my surprise, she didn't bother me quite as much as I expected. Of course she was hardly the awesome Emma of the current comics, but I rather felt she wasn't supposed to be. This was young Emma, back when she was completely under the sway of Shaw. There is plenty of time for her to become the "Ice Queen subject to no one witch with a b" that we know and love her as now. And I felt the ending completely set up that possibility. I just hope that both Mystique and Emma are allowed to be full-fledged characters capable of running their own plans, and not just Magneto's toadies.
Azazel and Riptide? Their powers were cool to watch, but I definitely got the sense that the filmmakers picked them solely because they wanted villains with the powers of Nightcrawler and Storm. Azazel makes chronological sense... but Riptide again makes me wonder why they had Shaw and not Sinister, as Riptide is best known as one of Sinister's Marauders.
But all these little things are nothing when one considers how well the film was executed. The plot, the humor, the dialogue -- I loved it all. This is the first film that I actually feel really captures the tone of "X-Men."
And I am delighted with their explanation of how Xavier ends up in a wheelchair. It is PERFECT. They don't show him bald yet, but a joke earlier in the film gives us a hint as to how the hair loss might happen in a later film.
What about age appropriateness?
There are several scenes with women clad in lingerie. One very brief scene of a sexual nature and another that has a sexual context. There is also a lot of violence that is for the most part fairly bloodless. However younger viewers would probably find the scenes between Magneto and Shaw disturbing, as Shaw used some very sadistic and horrible methods to activate Magneto's powers and Magneto later takes revenge in a way that could bother some. So I suggest parents or older siblings seeing the film first before showing it to the rest of the family.
Overall I was far happier with the film than I first thought I would be. It was fun, it was intellectually and emotionally engaging, and was excellently made. Well worth the $6 ticket and I will absolutely buy it when it comes out on DVD.
Furthermore, if they can get Matthew Vaughn to come back, I think there is every possibility that a sequel would be even better than the first.