Following the winter doldrums, March promised to be an eventful month at multiplexes. The long-awaited “Dune: Part Two” released on March 1 to unanimous (and well-deserved) acclaim, delivering what many consider a benchmark in science fiction storytelling. Unfortunately, other mainstream March titles vastly paled in comparison.

I am focusing primarily on “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” and “Godzilla x Kong: New Empire.” The films share similarly generic subtitles and mark a nadir in blockbuster filmmaking. Both brands once represented momentous cinematic events, but they now find themselves slipping into pop culture quicksand, vying for desperate attempts at relevance that fall woefully on their face.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is the more egregious perpetrator. Filmmakers continue to try and fail miserably at reconjuring the buoyant spirit behind the 1984 original. That film blended lively world-building and a sarcastic wit with masterful results; it remains a refreshing oddity for imbuing such breeziness within the typical sci-fi formula. The 1989 sequel and the 2016 and 2021 reboots were earnest enough, yet they remain ensnared in their predecessor’s illustrious shadow.

With “Frozen Empire,” the franchise stumbles into a menacing ghost trap — a spectral realm of boredom and indifference. This sequel to a reboot comes across as an aimless and over-baked retread that only extenuates the series’ glaring expiration date.

I struggle to glean any artistic merits within “Frozen Empire.” Every element here comes across as used parts deriving from an archaic assembly line, adhering to a rigid formula without including any fresh creative diversions.

The story, for instance, is brimming with studio meddling. Roughly five subplots compete for screen time, each following into a carefully curated category to suit a different demographic. Once integral throughlines, like the rapport between the old-school Ghostbusters, come across as half-baked afterthoughts, while the reboot’s holdover characters continue to range from uninteresting to undefined. I at least credit Dan Akroyd for injecting his zany energy; no one can spout spectral nonsense with such zeal and passion. The all-star cast, though, including Paul Rudd, Bill Murray and Carrie Coon, spend most of the runtime grimacing for their paycheck.
“Frozen Empire” freezes up in every facet. Gil Kenan’s direction exudes a sanitized and overproduced aesthetic. Every ghoulish ghost and bombastic action setpiece he crafts is drenched in clunky computer effects, paling vastly compared to the charming creations from the Ghostbusters’ yesteryears. The film also lacks the brand’s sharp comedic bite, trading in cunning dialogue exchanges for juvenile pratfalls. It’s rare for a sequel to fumble every aspect that made its predecessor a cultural touchstone.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is equivalent to a flatlining TV pilot. Countless proton beams stream simultaneously, although none of the activity distracts from a creatively vacant final product.

Then there is “Godzilla x Kong: A New Empire.” I am not a cynic when it comes to monster movie spectacles. Blockbusters like “Godzilla (2014)” and “King Kong (2005)”, and scrappy indies such as “Godzilla Minus One” and “Monsters” showcase the fruitful paths filmmakers can take in reimagining storied icons. Even the recent “Godzilla vs. Kong” provided the cheesy camp factor synonymous with its B-movie peers.

On the contrary, “New Empire” feels very beige. I would not say the film woefully fails in its pursuits; it more so delivers a reheated leftover that leaves behind a milquetoast aftertaste.

“Godzilla x Kong” lands as a monotonous monster mash, mainly because it embraces the same cardinal sins that derail other big-budget epics. So many of these films provide zero sources for audience engagement outside of the chaotic combat. The characters might as well be action figures; they are vacant stand-ins masquerading as “humans” amidst the constant carnage. Not even having acclaimed actors like Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry inhabiting these roles can generate much interest.

One devious lie perpetrated in early marketing materials is the notion that Kong and Godzilla are co-leads here. Instead, viewers are deceived into watching a Kong-driven experience with sprinkles of Godzilla. The menacing lizard appears for maybe 10 minutes while the remaining runtime sinks down a rabbit hole of nonsense Kong lore (something about a magical ancient tribe, I guess). Unless Godzilla hired an agent who charges studios new premiums, this bizarre decision to deliver a half-baked promise makes little sense.

The action itself is occasionally enthralling. Director Adam Wingard injects more exuberance behind the camera than most studio-controlled conductors. Whether he captures Kong riding on Godzilla’s back or the monster duo heroically charging into battle, Wingard does mine spurts of campy brilliance that weave seamlessly into an alluring B-movie frequency. I emphasize that these moments come in spurts, though, as much of the runtime feels like the audience is eating its vegetables before finally indulging in some delectable dessert.

At nearly two hours long, “Godzilla x Kong: New Empire” lost my interest long before its epic finale commenced. Colorful imagery and boisterous roars jump off the screen throughout, but none of these senses can even cultivate a semi-interesting thrill ride.

What lesson is there to learn from “Ghostbusters,” “Godzilla x Kong” and their anemic end products? Maybe Hollywood should spend less time squeezing profits from storied franchises and focus more on providing these staples with an innovative new direction.

Matt Conway
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