Akira is well known in the West and it's considered to be a classic. As a movie I think it stands out and it's worth watching, if only because of how different it is from most Anime.
However, I would recommend that you read the manga before you watch the movie. The manga is longer, better and you get the whole story.
Akira is an epic.
Whenever I think of a long manga done well I always think Akira, and so it's hard to give it any real criticism.
The action goes from simple fights between gangs, to telekinesis and things keep getting worse.
There are a few drawings that aren't as good as others. The style still holds up, it's obvious that it was made in the 80s but it might have been made yesterday and it'd still be great. Kaneda is funny and Tetsuo is a great villain.
I think its reputation is more of a problem because once something is so famous everyone copies it, parodies it, pays homage to it and then when someone wants to see it they already knows what happens.
Highly recommended. Read the manga first!