The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008)

the x-files i want to believe

“This isn’t my life anymore, Mulder. I’m done chasing monsters in the dark.”

The Scoop: 2008 PG-13, directed by Chris Carter and starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and Amanda Peet

Tagline: To find the truth, you must believe.

Summary Capsule: Some FBI agents, stymied on a case with some X-Files undertones, rescues our heroes Mulder and Scully from outsider status in exchange for some consulting. Boredom ensues for the audience.


Al’s rating: About 1.5 Cigarette Smoking Men short of being worth it.

Al’s review: Like most of America, I fell in love with The X-Files in 1993.  Also like most of America, I got disinterested around Season 4 and watched Fight the Future with only a passing interest.  By the time the series finale hit in 2002, I tuned in out of curiosity and walked away feeling like I hadn’t missed much in the preceding five years.  Like most of America.

I’ve always also had a soft spot for it, though.  The X-Files was the first “grownup” TV show I’d ever watched (being all of twelve when the Season 1 aired) and it was the first show I’d ever seen that had real story arcs.  There was a cool leading man and a cute redhead, and they were both smart first and tough second.  They also didn’t win a lot.  Sure, maybe they’d kill the pyrokinetic swamp monster or whatever, but real victories were always snatched away by faceless MIBs and mysterious chainsmokers in poorly-lit rooms.  In short, The X-Files opened up a whole new world of television for me and I can’t help looking at it through a softer lens than I otherwise might.

All of which is the scenic route into I Want to Believe, a movie so thoroughly excoriated that I skipped it in the theaters, gave it a pass while it was on the New Release wall, and only finally watched it today out of curiosity and boredom.  And, for all the thrashings it took, it wasn’t so bad.

First, I simply enjoyed revisiting Mulder and Scully after so many years and seeing what happened to them.  Movies tend to end when all the bad guys have been killed and the hero has swung away from an exploding fireball with the girl clutched firmly in one hand and the treasure firmly in the other.  It’s rare that we ever get to see when they go to counseling to deal with their PTSD or when they get married and find out they’re actually wrong for each other.  So when a sequel takes the time to show us a bit of fallout before launching into the next adventure, I appreciate it.

Secondly, I actually enjoyed the plot.  Heresy, I know.  As Justin and Kyle pointed out, I Want to Believe isn’t terribly X-Filesy insofar as we’re missing aliens and black goop and dramatically placed venetian blinds.  Instead, Mulder and Scully are hauled out of retirement to help investigate a kidnapping where the only leads seem to be coming from Father Joe, a disgraced pedophile priest claiming to be a psychic.  As the case unfolds, the question arises whether Father Joe is truly receiving visions or if he knows more than he lets on and is hoping to use this information to restore his name.

It’s not the slam-bang storyline that 20th Century Fox executives (and plenty of fans) were hoping for, but I like it because, in its own low-key way, I think it really works.  The fun of Mulder and Scully (besides the will-they-or-won’t-they Moonlighting thing) has always been their ideological tug of war: Mulder is looking for any reason to believe in the supernatural; Scully is looking for any reason not to.  It’s what made them so watchable for so long, and Father Joe provides the perfect avenue to really explore where their beliefs come from and what their limitations are.

Of course, I Want to Believe failed for a reason.  It’s only an hour and forty minute movie but it still feels about twenty minutes too long, and, while I can respect Chris Carter’s hesitation to throw too many random scares at his audience, “none” is far too few a number for this type of film.  We do get some action towards the end and a little bit of blood and gristle, but no more so than your average episode of NCIS, and that’s not why people are watching anyway.  People like The X-Files because it’s fun and creepy and I don’t think this succeeds at either of those.  The Mulder and Scully chemistry is still there but the relationship feels like a chore, and I’d love to call the plot a “slow boil,” but there’s really no boil to it at all.  It just trucks along until the case is closed and then the movie just sort of ends.  It’s thematically sound, but franchises don’t catch fire because people like the themes.

For those X-Files fans who can accept that this is probably the end of the road, I imagine they like I Want to Believe for the same reasons I did.  When you get right down to it, though, Chris Carter seemed less concerned with cultivating a new generation of X-Philes and instead just wanted to drop in on Fox and Dana to say ‘Hi.’  And I’m not sure that’s enough.

Kyle’s rating: Somebody didn’t want to make a good movie, though

Kyle’s review: I’ve tried writing this review a few times, attempting to be at least backhandedly positive here and there. But I give up. The X-Files: I Want to Believe is junk. It wastes the charm of its negatively charismatic leads, it adds nothing to the legacy of one of the most important sci-fi television shows of all-time, and worst of all — it’s a really boring film. If this is the best they could come up with after years of brainstorming, the end result lends credence to the conspiracy theory that they failed on purpose so no one would want another X-Files film.

The uninspired plot revolves around some current FBI agents seeking out the legendary Mulder and Scully for assistance on a vaguely X-Files-esque case involving missing girls and a disgraced priest with some psychic insight on what’s going on. So they decide to help out, even while there is a lot of angst about it between them and some really stupid subplot for Scully involving a terminal young patient. There’s no aliens, no werewolves, no weird inbred freaks. Instead, you get one tiny throw-away detail worthy of the X-Files theme song (compare the sex of the abducted to the relationship between the villains) lost amid a fairly stupid crime thriller that Mulder and Scully’s unpaid intern could solve.

I suppose all that really matters here anyway is Mulder and Scully: where they ended up, what they’re doing, and if they ended up together. If you care, go ahead and see the movie; what entertainment value there is derives almost solely from seeing Duchovny and Anderson together again and how they fit back into the roles that made them pop culture icons. The two of them largely succeed, wisely refraining from any kind of wild caricature for the big screen (having learned that lesson from their first cinematic endeavor), and instead maintain the droll ‘us against them’ connection that defined Mulder and Scully from the start. Duchonvy gets a little big more acclaim here for his bold decision to allow his beard to briefly do a lot of his early acting for him, though. Nice!

It hurts to not focus on any kind of real positive about the movie, but it is a letdown from start to finish. The variance in tone is so perplexing that one wonders how much editing and on-the-fly changes popped up during shooting, because it feels like everyone wore (metaphorical) unwieldy mittens while putting this movie together. It’s jagged, unsmooth, and disconnected from itself all throughout. Why, Chris Carter? Why?

Ultimately, I think the film accomplished its goal: to make us not want another X-Files film. But I have to think they wanted it to be because we didn’t think they could top this one. Instead, we find ourselves avoiding even thinking about it, and dreading any suggestion that we’ll get another. I’d read an original novel based on the character, eventually and only as a paperback on a long transatlantic plane ride, but otherwise it’s probably safe to say: The X-Files are dead.

Long live Californication!

Justin’s rating: This movie’s a conspiracy!  It doesn’t exist!

Justin’s review: While we often track our age in years, it’s an interesting exercise to segment your life into fandoms – portions of pop culture that you clung to in an era and let define you, to some extent.  If we were to map out my life, under childhood I’d put “Star Wars,” under teenager I’d write “Star Trek,” and in college I’d type out “X-Files.”  Yes, I really trod the beaten path, didn’t I?  I remember very keenly the day I traded in my poster of a cross-section of the Enterprise-D for a large blowup of Mulder and Scully chasing something down with FBI-approved flashlights, because that was the day I became a rabid X-Phile for the next five or so years.

The X-Files grew to be such a huge cult hit partially because the creators banked on the hunch that there’s a conspiracy theorist inside all of us.  Which is true, I guess.  We’re often told the world is mundane and drab, we have Occam’s Razor and Sherlock Holmes frowning at our flights of fancy, but in most of us there’s a niggling something hissing that there’s more out there than meets the eye.  That the boring is a coverup for the extraordinary.

In any case, the show was a brilliant blend of scifi, horror, crime procedural, humor and action.  At its core were the characters of Mulder and Scully, representing faith and science, respectively (except with the odd twist that Scully was religious and Mulder was not).  The shows were a tug-o-war between these two sides, giving us both mundane explanations and extraordinary possibilities.

In 1998, the show was at its peak, with the fifth season going strong, and a full-length motion picture hit the theaters.  Incidentally, that movie was one of the very first to be reviewed on a neophyte website called Mutant Reviewers.  Following that point, however, it started to go downhill, gradually at first and then far more rapidly.  The show began to collapse under the weight of an impossibly complex mythos that was never fully explained (a cautionary tale for later mystery-scifi shows like Lost) and the semi-desertion of its key stars (David Duchovny scaled back his appearances in seasons 8 and 9).  By the time it left the airwaves in 2002, many fans had already moved on.

Ergo, it was really interesting when a trailer for a brand-new X-Files movie was shown, because this is the sort of franchise that you’d assume is done once it was done.  It didn’t seem to have the legs that other cult phenomenon have shown past their cancellations, and to make an X-Files reference in the latter half of the 2000’s was not just passé, but archaic.  But obviously some planetary alignment happened or something, because creator Chris Carter and stars Duchovny and Gillian Anderson signed back on for another go at a feature film, one decade after Fight the Future.  It was absolutely trampled over by more high-profile summer 2008 flicks, hindered also by the fact that it’s not anything above a C-student in terms of filmmaking.

Both X-Files movies struggled with this: the show had huge story arcs and complex character relationships, yet the studios wanted to make films that would appeal to a wider audience.  Hence, you get half-and-half, just enough references to appease the fans (and confuse newcomers), but by necessity the story has to be stand-alone by nature.  I Want To Believe isn’t epic or particularly engrossing, but basically filling the role of a two-part episode in the middle of a hypothetical sixteenth season.

Both Mulder and Scully have moved on — well, at least Scully has.  She’s a doctor in a creepy Catholic hospital, while Mulder bides his time in a room full of newspaper clippings, the kind you might see when TV reports take us into the den of homegrown terrorists.  A flimsy FBI case involving a missing agent, a pedophile ex-priest claiming to have psychic powers, and some severed body parts call for the expertise of these two experts, but this time, they’re just going through the motions.  Neither one really wants to get involved, but they sort of do; there’s also a half-hearted relationship tying them together, but it’s so lackluster that you just pity them when they kiss instead of cheer (if you weren’t an X-Files viewer, the “will they or won’t they?” part of the show kept many a fan sitting on the edge of their couch).

I won’t spoil the story other than to say that there isn’t much story to spoil.  Other than the psychic, there’s absolutely no paranormal element, the twist is more like a limp towel-wringing, and the climax of the plot gets to a point where there’s an abrupt cut and the film goes into its denouement.  Everyone looks tired here: Mulder wings out a few lame attempts at humor, Scully sticks by her “I don’t believe!” schtick even though who’s she kidding at this point, and GUEST STAR Skinner is wheeled out to look somewhat peeved at just being there.  The whole effort should have any fan, ex or current, throwing their hands up and asking, “Then why bother?”

Wow, this got depressing, fast.  Doesn’t help I’m running a fever and on drugs, although I would think Nyquil would help juice this movie up a bit, perhaps with a cameo appearance by the Smurfs or something.  Hm.

“We used to be pretty and popular… that’s a conspiracy, right?”

Intermission!

  • The dig at the then-current President of the United States was, admittedly, a little bit funny. It is also the only time during the film (other than the credits) that the X-Files theme is heard
  • When Mulder and Scully first walk back into the FBI offices right before they walk into the bullpen, a female agent walks by that catches Mulder’s attention and he watches her walk away. The woman is Vanessa Morley, who throughout the series played the young Samantha Mulder, and is the same Samantha in the photo Mulder has taped to the back of his home office door.
  • For those hoping to see The X-Files continue, there is a fan movement that has sprung up called “the XF3 Army,”  headquartered at www.xfilesnews.com.
  • According to creator Chris Carter, if an X-Files 3 were to happen, it would focus more specifically on the show’s mythology and the impending invasion on December 21st, 2012.

Groovy Quotes

Fox Mulder: Are you asking me to give up?
Dana Scully: No. No, I can’t ask you to do that… but I can tell you I won’t be coming home tonight.

Fox Mulder: Scully? Why would he say that? “Don’t give up.” Why would he say such a thing to you?
Dana Scully: I think that was clearly meant for you, Mulder.
Fox Mulder: He didn’t say it to me. He said it to you. If Father Joe were the devil, why would he say the opposite of what the devil might say? Maybe that’s the answer, the larger answer. Don’t give up.

Fox Mulder: This is not an exact science. If it were me, I’d be on the guy 24/7. I’d be in bed with him kissing his holy ass.
ASAC Dakota Whitney: Father Joe is a convicted pedophile.
Fox Mulder: [surprised] … Maybe I’d stay out of bed with him.

Agent Mosley Drummy: I don’t believe this.
Fox Mulder: You know, that’s been your problem from the very beginning.

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