The X-Files is back on TV, and if like me you grew up over the ’80s and ’90s and were a huge fan of the show, its return might have been met with optimistic joy garnished with just a dash of worry. The reason for this worry is the topic of this piece. The X-Files: I Want To Believe is the second movie based on the award-winning TV show. Unlike the previous movie outing The X-Files: Fight the Future, I Want To Believe is a stand-alone story that does not continue with any of the series left over plot threads. Show creator Chris Carter wanted to try to do something new with this one but unfortunately it didn’t strike the same chord with the fans as the previous film had. The film had spent seven years in development hell; it was originally meant to start production in 2001, but due to legal issues filming didn’t start until December of 2007. Adding to the fact that upon its 2008 release it had to go toe-to-toe with Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight. The box office was less than spectacular and reviews were mixed, so fans of the series now look upon this as what was thought for a long time as the last outing for Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.
The plot of I Want To Believe plays like a watered down mixture of Seven, The Exorcist III and Kiss the Girls. So, even though Carter wanted to take Mulder and Scully in a new direction, away from stories about alien abductions and governmental conspiracies they don’t necessarily wander down a path that others haven’t taken before. They are joined by series regular Mitch Pileggi and newcomers Billy Connolly, Amanda Peet and rapper turned car pimper turned actor Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner. The plot revolves around Billy Connolly‘s character, disgraced priest Father Joe who claims he is receiving visions from God about a kidnapped FBI Agent. The FBI ask the Scully, who is now working full-time as a surgeon to help them find Mulder, they need his help in order to work out the strange nature of the case. She reluctantly agrees, informs Mulder of the situation and the blank slate the FBI are offering him for his help. Spooky Mulder and Scully are back on the job. So far so good, the old tropes are there. The unexplained is front and centre, but this time it has more of a spiritual nature rather than an extraterrestrial one.
True to form the main characters quickly fall into the roles of believer and skeptic. Mulder wants to hear Father Joe out and give him a chance to prove what he says is true, while Scully is appalled that the FBI would put their trust in a convicted paedophile and refuses to believe that he is receiving visions from God. I will admit that when this was revealed about Father Joe’s character I was severely put off the idea of the lovable Connolly playing such a vile character, which left me with the feeling that he had been drastically miscast. The story plods along, with Joe leading Mulder and the FBI to clues about the missing agent, while Scully decides to stay away from the case and focus on her work as a surgeon, that is until Joe offers her some advice that seemed prophetic in nature, and really has an effect on Scully’s perception of him.
Now this is where my major issue with this movie arises/ As the story unfolded and Father Joe was pronouncing his visions, parts of the movie started to seem familiar to me, and not in a “I’ve seen a movie like this before” kind of way, but in a “I’ve seen this on The X-Files before”. Then I remembered an episode of The X-Files from season one called ‘Beyond the Sea‘. This episode revolved around a serial killer named Boggs played by the always fantastic Brad Dourif. Boggs is on death row, and following a botched first attempt to end his life via lethal injection he began to have visions, thanks to being possessed by the ghosts of his many victims. He starts to see things about two missing teenagers who have been kidnapped.
In this episode Mulder doesn’t believe Boggs, after all Mulder was the one who is responsible for putting him on death row, and so Mulder thinks he is just trying to stop his impending second execution. Scully, on the other hand, who is mourning the recent loss of her father, starts to believe Boggs. She decides to investigate, and Boggs’ visions turn out to be true. The kids are rescued and their kidnapper dies while trying to escape. So as much as Carter declared that he wanted to take The X-Files in a different direction, he ends up pretty much ripping off a very early X-Files story, only it doesn’t have the same gravitas of ‘Beyond the Sea’ – something that might be down to the lack of Dourif, who elevates everything he is in just by showing up. I also believe that the role reversal in the episode really helped pushed the narrative in a different direction, which is very much lacking in I Want To Believe.
X-Files: I Want To Believe is a disjointed piece of story telling. It starts off well – the relationship between Mulder and Scully is as great as always even though they are carrying the baggage of nine seasons of TV and Duchovny and Anderson slip into the roles with ease. Newcomers Connolly, Peet and Joiner don’t get nearly enough screen time, their characters being nothing more than two-dimensional place holders until Mitch Pileggi shows up at the end to save the day. Peet draws the shortest straw due to her being killed off in the second act with the emotional impact of the death of a red shirt on Star Trek. The film stumbles towards its conclusion with Mulder taking it upon himself to track down the FBI agent and her abductor, who turns out to be a man who is harvesting bodies in order to perform a head transplant on his dying husband. The twist being that the dying husband is one of Father Joe’s victims. In the finale Mulder stumbles across the kidnapper, follows him to his farm of death and then promptly gets subdued, only to be saved by Scully and FBI Assistant Director Skinner who has decided to join for the final five minutes of the movie. The kidnapper is subdued, the severed head dies and we get Mulder and Scully get to have one final kiss before the credits role.
This movie has one saving grace for me, and that is Gillian Anderson. This is definitely her movie. She is brilliant as Dana Scully, her crisis of faith throughout is the very core of character and she really owns the role. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for David Duchovny who is wasted in the film and has very little development past what we have seen before. The X-files has given us some fantastic stories and characters over the years, and I am over-joyed that it’s back on our TV screens. Even if it is only a limited six episode run as a fan I’m just glad that this movie is no longer the swan song of two of the most iconic characters in sci-fi history. I know the title of the movie is an obvious riff on the famous tagline that followed Mulder around for the entire run of the series, and appeared on the famous UFO poster that adorned his basement office wall, but I also sums up how I feel about this movie and how it was a wasted opportunity to give the fans of the show a really solid piece of X-Files cinema. I wanted to believe this could be done, but unfortunately it falls very flat.