3 out of 5
Directed by: Chris Carter
What a strange movie.
Not, like, X-Files strange, more in terms of wondering how this qualified as a feature-film worthy idea to its creators. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad movie, more that it’s so intent on playing the middle ground – welcoming to new viewers, interesting for returning viewers; about the paranormal, not about the paranormal; a grisly thriller, a psychological drama – that it backs itself onto walking a fairly unwavering line. The movie is incredibly subdued. Meanwhile, it might be one of the best episodes of the show ever written; too bad it happened way after the fact and thus had to bloat to fill out a movie runtime.
My review for X-Files the series pending, the film successfully tackles one of what I would consider to be an issue with that show: A lack of legitimate character drama. Mulder is the ghost chaser and Scully is the skeptic; Mulder lost his sister and Scully struggles with her religious faith; but it was only ever window dressing to a continually convoluted conspiracy plot. The show (to me) was most effective when it ditched the extras, relied on banter, and – yeah – did monster-of-the-week affairs. But they kept crawling back to family and baby drama, and it just never clicked. The dialogue was there, but the character history to justify it was always assumed and not earned.
X-Files: I Want to Believe was intended to come out years earlier, but didn’t. As time ticked by, creator Chris Carter rejiggered it to stand alone from the series, resulting in a lot of the wishy-washy mentioned above. But by advancing the timeline realistically, Mulder and Scully, once the FBI’s duo assigned to those Xed, unexplainable files, have, logically, aged. We see and are shown how they’ve moved on (though they are a couple, another “you never really sold me on that” aspect from the show): Mulder is bearded and clipping conspiracy news stories, disgraced from the Feebs; Dana is solely a doctor once more. They’re tired. And from that comes some legitimate character drama, after being called back into the fray to assist on a case with a missing FBI agent and a claimed psychic. The layers that are achieved regarding this – Fox’s crawl back to having a cause; Dana’s confusion over the psychic’s Catholicism and quite checkered past – are leagues beyond what was managed on the show, and, for better or worse, that was only achievable with the chronological distance. The subtle, paced steps taken wouldn’t have worked on a show in the 90s, especially once they’d established themselves as more thriller than drama.
And with this drummed up, X-Files: I Want to Believe could have been an incredibly fascinating exploration of two historic characters, a worthy epilogue to a show that never allowed them that type of room to grow. But… that wouldn’t really have been the X-Files, and so it’s not drummed up, and its wrapped around Billy Connoly’s psychic and severed limbs instead. Which also happens to be an interesting plot, but its treated like a B-plot with A-plot reactions, meaning that we fiddle around with those scenes like they don’t really matter, but then Music sting! Reaction shot! It matters!
Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz keep plodding on that middleground. There’s some strong, well-nuanced writing mixed in and nicely subdued performances from the leads, and some things definitely happen… but nothing that I imagine will much matter to viewers without fresh Mulder and Scully memories, which kinda ruins the idea of isolating the movie.