This movie is definitely a mixed bag. It did a lot of the things I wanted it to do, but still managed to miss the mark. It's definitely stripped down, definitely simplified compared to the anime, and that all works to its favor, imho, but it's not a movie unto itself. Nothing that happens in roughly the first 10 minutes is resolved over the course of the next 90 minutes.
I liked the opening quite a bit. Everything up through the first titan attack was good, and I thought all the changes were for the better, especially in that there are a lot of things that are just flat-out dropped. Instead of teasing us with plot threads that will never get properly resolved (like Eren's dad having a super secret basement laboratory of ominousness), those kinds of things are just left by the wayside and the basic story becomes "After 100 years, the Titans re-appear and break through the first wall. 2 Years later, food is becoming more and more scarce and a last-ditch effort to reclaim the outer area must be undertaken or 'everyone' will starve." And while I personally REALLY like that simplified setup and story, it's not resolved. We go from this setup to a hard cut to the '2 years later' part and there's no training, no getting to know the characters, we're just kinda thrown in, and it's the night before we're driving to the town where things need to start to begin to think about maybe happening to try to move the plot forward...and yeah, I am choosing to be that nasty about the "starting to begin to think about maybe trying to happen to attempt to consider possibly moving the plot forward" because this movie ends around episode 8 of the anime (I had to look this up, because I couldn't remember).
SO, after this decent setup, and DECENT (but not good, not by a long shot) world-building, we get 30 minutes of I-Don't-Even-Know...just boredom. It was really, REALLY boring for about 30 minutes.
Then the Titans pop back in and we get some decent action and (mild spoiler for anyone not familiar with the source material)
The infamous "sex scene" that rustled some feathers was actually, imho, totally fine. For starters, it's not even a SEX SCENE, and if you're highly curious, well:
Also apparently pissing people off is the handling of Mikasa, which I found totally fine. She's still just an unemotional badass...so, aside from changing the things that happen to her character, I don't think they actually changed her character at all.
The problem with Mikasa, and really all the characters, is they (I think) tried to make them less whiny, and less awful than the source-material counterparts, but they just took out all the terrible things about them and forgot to INSERT anything. Armen being the brainy guy gets boiled down to one instant where he mentions the existence of the ocean, and aside from that...I dunno, he kinda looked like Eren and I even got them confused once or twice. The nerdy chick who wants to dissect titans is there, and is the ONLY character/actor who isn't just a dour, one-note pile of boredom, but I dunno who she is, who she works for, what her position is, what her purpose is (movie-world purpose; her 'our world' purpose is comic relief). There's some guy who's a jerk. And then aside from Eren, I couldn't tell you a single thing about any of the other characters in this movie except MAYBE one note: Potato girl, leader guy, chef, the fatty who swings an axe a lot, Not-the-leader-but-the-leader-via-example dude...and Eren is actually maybe a bit more likable here than in the anime, but again, he's just so stripped down, he doesn't feel like a whole, complete person. He's DEFINITELY less of a d-bag though, and he seems way more altruistic and just wanting to do the right thing and fight the good fight and be the good guy than a whiny butthead looking for personal revenge. The problem there is, that's just not interesting. There's nothing interesting driving him or anybody, except for Dr. Dissection, as I call her, and she's not there enough to punch up the human proceedings.
So, the plot is a mixed bag, and the characters are just BORING, how do the Titans fare?
Wonderfully. They are excellently realized, really terrifying, and playfully gory. The Colossal Titan in particular is just awe-inspiring. I wanted so much more of that, because it's so well-done. There are some little twists and things to them, that I dunno if I didn't notice them in the anime because I hated the anime, or if they really weren't there or weren't emphasized as much, but they are dirtier, shabbier, scarier, and way more eerie. If you thought from the previews that their expressions looked a little derpy, I can assure you, it's used to excellent effect of 'vacant malevolence' in the actual film.
I don't know much of Higuchi's previous directorial work, but it seems he's really only actually interested in the Titans, and everything else is secondary or less to him. It's a shame too, because everything is THERE for this to be a good adaptation of a mediocre-to-bad source: it's stripped down and leaves a lot of the non-essential jibber-jabber to the side, the Titans are spectacular, and the characters are stripped of their worst aspects....but we don't really feel anything except some vague fun at staring at the effects and gore in action, which is just as well accomplished via a short like Giant God Warrior Invades Japan, or something.
And it really, REALLY isn't a movie unto itself, like, at all. It REQUIRES part 2 in a way I'm not sure if I've seen in a movie in a long, long time. I mean, I know most if not all movies filmed and released in this back-to-back way end on cliffhangers, but most if not all of those also clearly give us a beginning, middle and end in the first movie and then tack on an additional stinger to leave us wanting more, almost like they do "Beginning, middle, end...beginningofthenextmoviesmashcutend" This is just "Beginning...middlemovie'sover! Tune in next time for the thrilling conclusion!"
This might wind up being a more scathing review than I actually feel if Part 2 ends things in a satisfying manner, but honestly, aside from the gory titan things, this "movie" was just sleep-inducing nothingness.
EDIT: I can't believe I failed to mention how much I wound up disliking the overall aesthetic of the cinematography. At a certain point (roughly the 40-minute mark) the movie slips into "everything must be grey" and never pulls itself out. It's muted and dull and the amount of gray sky just kinda gave it a dreary, unpleasant feeling. Dour.
And also, like I said before, my overall impression wasn't as negative as this review wound up sounding, but when I collected my thoughts here, the amount of problems I had just really started to pile up...imagine then, if you care to, how GOOD the Titan stuff is if, after all these complaints, I still found it worth the watch (though worth another watch ever again??? I dunno...)