Review: The X-Files: I Want to Believe
By Sean Collier
July 29, 2008
Time has not been kind to The X-Files. Instead of leaving fans of the series wanting more, Chris Carter and company made even diehard advocates wish that the series had ended a bit earlier. Intrigue and quality dropped over the final seasons of the show; meanwhile, TV drama began to diversify. While The X-Files was once the most respected hour-long drama in years, the likes of Lost and Heroes have all but erased Mulder and Scully from memory – and nostalgia has been reserved for the show's spiritual predecessor, Twin Peaks.
The announcement of a feature sequel to the ten-year-old Fight the Future, then, was somewhat confusing. As word spread that the film would be less plot-heavy and more of a throwback to the show's earlier, single-plot mystery format, the making of this film seemed almost like an apology for previous mistakes: sorry we betrayed your trust and got all convoluted and melodramatic, fans. Here's one last story.
Indeed, I Want to Believe plays like an extended episode from the show's heyday. Trouble is, this was one of those episodes you would've turned off by about 9:20.
We find Mulder and Scully far from FBI headquarters. He is a somewhat paranoid recluse, sticking newspaper clippings to the wall and rambling about psychic phenomena. She has bounced back well, and is a medical doctor at a somewhat stern Catholic hospital. FBI Agent Mosley Drummy (played by Xzibit, surprisingly acceptable in the role) informs Scully that a young agent is missing under mysterious circumstances, and the help of now-disgraced Agent Mulder is needed. A by-the-numbers conversation convinces Mulder to come back, and we're off to the races.
Clunky, messy writing by series creator Chris Carter and longtime show writer Frank Spotnitz is the main stumbling block here. Even core characters behave in confusing, seemingly unmotivated ways at times, and major reveals and plot twists are mishandled – the big surprise of the film, which I won't spoil here, is more of a "Wait, did I miss something?" moment than a shocker. And for a show that made a point of finding some scientific background to throw at its paranormal subject matter, science takes a big hit here. I did not know that you could Google "Stem Cell Research" and be qualified to perform controversial surgery the next day, but according to the movie, that's pretty much how it goes.
Supporting performances from Amanda Peet and Billy Connolly are earnest, but not particularly engaging – but that's the point, we're supposed to be wrapped up in Fox and Dana, no one else. The show's iconic performers are very much themselves, although attempts to briefly tie in the show's grander mythology leave them stumbling; perhaps they're trying to figure out what happened over the past ten years, too.
Ultimately, I Want to Believe is just not a very good film, and a poor representation of the power the show once had. Perhaps the subject matter is somewhat passé now, or perhaps this was just a miss, but poor reception and box office performances make this the final chapter of Chris Carter's mythology, in all likelihood. The show's first few seasons speak for themselves; unfortunately, there may be no way to restore the film's tarnished legacy at this point.