Modern remakes are asked to firmly justify their existence, and Steven Spielberg's grand musical re-ignites the 1961's cinematic excitement. The film's establishing shot takes the means of replacing the sweeping New York City skyline with a more grim threat of gentrification: a stark reminder of the cultural erasure in current-day New York City. Despite the skepticism around the director tackling a full-scale musical in his own vision, his final product is visually and tonally stunning.
The crux of the narrative, taken from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, is kept alive through a new point of view as the Jets and the Sharks shape up for their dramatic, intense, and unfiltered final face-off. Spielberg doesn't stifle back the high tensions between the two gangs, set to represent the Capulets and the Montagues, and includes a heavy emphasis on engaging the point of view on race from the perspective of multiple races, backgrounds, and ethnicities.
Fiery tension spitting with aggression is expected from West Side Story, though the relationship between Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) is purely magnetic. West Side Story serves Zelger's breakout role, and she takes no hesitancy when it comes to commanding the screen. While the whirlwind of a seemingly forbidden bi-racial romance sits at the heart of the film, the spirit is undeniably found in Zelger's wistful-turned-mournful Maria.
While the latest on-screen interpretation of West Side Story may not exactly cut itself out to be a shot-for-shot remake of its predecessor, though dares not stray all too far from the expectations that may be put into motion. Each musical number carries the weight behind Leonard Bernstein's score and Stephen Sondheim's lyricism with great pride. Stretches of unsubtitled Spanish reiterate the importance of the Puerto Rican narrative that dips in and out of musical scenes and dramatic confrontations alike. For as long as it has taken for proper representation to strike West Side Story, the efforts to mend the accuracy contribute to what Spielberg sets out to achieve.
It's as faithful as can be with its own punch to pack: West Side Story stands out on its own while paying homage to its inspiration. The revitalization manages to balance its individual identity while successfully tapping into the vibrancy of cross-culture storytelling. Through love and loss, heartful ballads, and bombastic musical numbers, West Side Story falls in love with its melancholic self all over again.