It's been a full decade since we last saw Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) on the big screen and six full years since we bade our fond, pained farewell to old spooky and the doc on television. At last development hell has been escaped... at last we will have The X-Files: I Want to Believe!
In the years between entries into the saga, Creator Chris Carter seems to have worked hard to balance the need to appeal to the television show's fan base as well as attract new viewers to the franchise with a stand-alone story all the while showing non-X-Philes (or even Ex-X-Philes) just why these two agents still deserve attention and interest. The end result is a screenplay by carter (like the first film, co-written with Frank Spotnitz) that lights upon a "stand-alone" story, with just enough background for new viewers to understand the characters but without the baggage of the over-hanging X-Files Conspiracy Mythos.
That means, of course: No Aliens. This is another of the "Monster of the Week" episodes. The problem is, the removal of the over-hanging Conspiracy Mythos and the focus on the one-off story also removes a good deal of interest in the plot and this big-screen theatrical release plays a lot more like an episode than the full, rich story that this could be. Don't get me wrong, the movie is good. As a fan, I was interested from the first second to that last shot when the blue "PG-13" screen popped up. What's more, my daughter, who is only familiar with The X-Files peripherally, followed the story and was likewise interested the whole time. However, it was hard for both of us to keep from wanting more. When the closing credits began I started to consider "Was this it?"
When we last saw our Enigmatic Duo, Mulder had been on the run after possibly surviving an Alien Abduction and Scully had gone back to her practice as a Medical Doctor. At this time the actual X-Files were already under the purview of agents Dogget and Reyes (along with Mitch Pileggi's smilin' A.D. Walter Skinner). Now, six years later, Mulder is in hiding, wanted by the FBI, still collecting conspiracy theories, still keeping that "I Want To Believe" poster on his office wall (albeit a new office in a remote location) and now cultivating a beard you'd need a John Deere Tractor to trim. Scully now balances her Faith and Science as a doctor at a Catholic Hospital. It's implied that Dr. Scully is the only one who knows how to find Mulder.
That comes in handy as soon as a pair of FBI Agents deem it necessary to pull Mulder back in and grant him a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card in return for his help (Just when he thought he was out... they pull him back in.). Surprisingly, this agent team isn't Dogget and Reyes (or even Skinner). In fact right now they're... well, I have no idea what they're doing, because they don't show up here. No, these new agents are ASAC Dakota Whitney (the sadly never nude Amanda Peet) and Agent Mosley Drummy (the thankfully never nude Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner). They may not be able to find Mulder, but Scully can and they can find her.
At first it's incredible to see these cool characters back together. There are some much appreciated nods to the series in their first shared scene as well (sunflower seeds on the floor, pencils stuck in the ceiling).
Not that I would advocate wasting time, folks, but it's almost too easy how quickly Mulder gets back into the swing of things. This might be due to the fact that this series of violent crimes he's been asked to take point on fits right into his investigative routine. An FBI Agent has gone missing and the only "eye-witness" is a fallen Catholic Priest named Joe Crissman (well played by Billy Connolly). The problem is that "Father Joe" only witnessed the events through some strange, paranormal visions which tend to cause him to bleed from the eyes.
Scully is still skeptical, Mulder is still a believer. Meanwhile Whitney is taking FBI Flack for believing in Mulder as Drummy is ready at every turn to close the book on the entire case. The mystery takes its time to unravel and there is no easy prediction to be made here. While the resolution to this horrifying series of dehumanizing actions is, to say the least, weird and creepy, it's not exactly what I'd call an According-to-Hoyle X-File. True, by their very nature, X-Files have no "Garden Variety" examples, but this mystery is a bit less Kolchak: The Night Stalker than it is Quincy M.E. (albeit, maybe for a Halloween episode).
Of course, that might have been the point. Whereas 1998's The X-Files: Fight the Future borrowed elements from Alien, 2008's The X-Files: I Want to Believe feels a lot more like The Silence of the Lambs with a sinister medical agenda threaded through it. While both are horrific, the second film works hard on a basis in "Real Science" as opposed to "Science Fiction" with the probable hope being that more of a "Mainstream" audience will come to see this one, thus making it a hit, thus warranting more sequels.
Sadly, this approach may have an adverse affect. Fans will love aspects of this, but may long for some of the underlying structure (or at least more of those subtle references) that made The X-Files a hit. The character of "William" is referenced, but not seen (which does thicken some of the underlying mystery), there are similar elements to major key-points in the show, but the expected dots never get drawn, there are many more detailed references to Scully and Mulder's relationship, though these often lead to more questions than answers. In the effort to make this not feel like a part of the mysterious X-Files tapestry, this one ends up feeling a lot more like a first-season episode with post-ninth season continuity and an almost tangible effort to leave out key characters aside from Fox and Dana. On the other hand, what's there can be an absolute joy for X-Philes, even if the overall film doesn't quite satisfy. For those of you considering walking out and buying Season Five on DVD instead, stay tuned, True Believers, because one welcome X-Files alumnus does pop up in one hell of a great cameo.
In addition, the story isn't bad and there is a feeling of dry tension in every scene. First time Feature director Chris Carter (who makes a Hitchcockian cameo in one of the hospital scenes) maintains the good camera eye he honed on the television show, making every shot look well-planned and intelligent (though sometimes a bit slow). He and Spotnitz do focus more on the cerebral than the kinetic, which makes the film feel more intelligent and paced, but also occasionally makes the film feel slow and muted, even at its most horrific. Still, the acting is quite good and the movie is still a treat for the eyes.
Ironically, both X-Files movies take place during periods of time in which there are no "X-Files". In 1998 they had been closed just before and opened just after the events of that film, in 2008 the FBI is forced to find their former paranormal expert because they no longer maintain such a strange division. When you step back and you look at this one objectively, you have to wonder if they REALLY needed to pull Fox Mulder back in for this case. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they did, but... really? Was this one just a stepping stone to the proposed third film? Any way you slice it, when put up against the usual slate of Hollywood Films, this one deserves to be a hit... I just hope it can make it. If the series ends here, that really WILL be an X-File! As for THIS X-File, I'm giving The X-Files: I Want to Believe Three and One Half Stars out of Five! I want to believe that there will be more from this great series and I want to believe that they'll be worthy of the name. Time will tell... let's all hope for a full symphony in the key of X.
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