There really isn’t such a thing as a bad Steven Spielberg movie.

Regardless of the film, one of America’s quintessential directors has crafted a career so illustrious and celebrated that it’s impossible to consider anything he makes bad.

So when it was announced that Spielberg would attempt to reinvigorate the 1957 Broadway musical and 1961 Academy Award Best Picture winner West Side Story, there’s no question that whatever he came up with would be visually stunning and magical from start to finish.

And it’s clear from watching the new version with Baby Driver star Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler as the star-crossed lovers at the center of the film that Spielberg watched the classic Natalie Wood/Rita Moreno film with adoration and an eye for how he could do better.

The film follows Tony, a former street gang leader trying to do right after spending a year in prison. He meets and falls for Maria, a Puerto Rican girl and sister of rival gang leader Bernardo, in a “Romeo and Juliet” like love affair that starts off a war between the Jets and Sharks in 1950s New York City.

The biggest flaw of West Side Story is the biggest star of the film, which holds the entire feature back from being something truly remarkable.

Elgort is exceptionally stiff in contrast to his castmates, an actor thrust into the world of Broadway as opposed to performers translating their talents to the silver screen. For the Tony and Maria relationship to work as quickly as Spielberg needs it to, Elgort has to be far more charming than he comes across here and it often feels like he’s marking out his character beats in long strokes as one might do in rehearsals where you don’t want to strain your energies before the real performance.

Conversely, Zegler brings a youthful wonder to the role of Maria, along with rapturous vocals needed to carry some of the musical’s most iconic numbers like “Tonight” and “I Feel Pretty.” Her performance has a great deal of theatricality to it and Spielberg knows exactly how to frame Zegler’s innocent face in ways that radiate Maria’s joy and her pain.

However, the true stars of West Side Story are its supporting ensemble led by Broadway actor Mike Faist as Riff, the leader of the Jets. There’s such a dynamic energy to his performance from the way Riff carries himself through each moment to the vibrant urgency Faist delivers his dialogue. It’s a perfect blend of the theatrical roots of the story and a truly cinematic performance.

Ariana DeBose gives her all as Anita, though it’s hard to compare with Moreno’s Oscar winning turn in the same role as the focus shifts even more away from the character. Moreno herself returns to the story with her Valentina replacing the traditional character Doc as Tony’s caretaker/mentor and Moreno’s Hollywood legacy combined with a strong turn should earn her strong consideration for another Oscar nomination.

Spielberg’s film unquestionably contains some of the year’s best scenes. The showdown between the Jets and the Sharks in an abandoned salt warehouse leaps off the screen with a dynamic energy thanks to sharp lighting and crisp cinematography from Janusz Kaminski. Spielberg places audiences fully in the moment and the climatic action, while feeling theatrical, still comes across with total impact emotionally and becomes the catalyst for the final moments of the film.

Conversely, West Side Story breezes through large portions of the narrative, especially the romance between Tony and Maria which goes from meeting to complete devotion almost at the drop of a hat without genuine chemistry between Elgort and Zegler.

With Spielberg at the helm, it’s very unlikely West Side Story will fall by the wayside come awards season with the film almost certainly a lock for best picture and best director nominations. Kaminski has enough visually spectacular moments to overcome some of the more blatantly phony CGI scenes and land a best cinematography nomination while Faist should be the first member of the cast to be considered for an acting award for his exceptional turn as Riff.

West Side Story is one of Spielberg’s most visually impressive and dynamic films in the latter stages of his career and although the narrative and especially Elgort don’t pop with the same energy, it’s still a film worth checking out in theaters or at home in advance of its eventual Oscar contention run.

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