An unjustified, unnecessary and frankly uninteresting coda to one of the great sci-fi franchises of modern times, the new ‘X-Files’ movie doesn’t rekindle interest in a once loved property so much as punctuate the fact it ran out of steam long before it expired.
Despite a disjointed and mythology-heavy storyline making it impenetrable for newcomers, the first “X-Files” film ten years ago was still a decent piece of work. Coming off five seasons of brilliantly produced and always entertaining television which cleverly mixed serial sci-fi pathos with stand alone monster stories, the film was cinematic, well-paced, and engaging in all the ways any fan could demand. Yet it also proved a watershed moment as subsequent seasons of the show grew increasingly derivative, convoluted and tedious until it limped off the air six years ago with an unsatisfying finale.
Displaying many of the same problems that plague the most reviled of the odd-numbered “Star Trek” films (Insurrection or Final Frontier – take your pick), this second film plays like one of the weaker standalone episodes of the last few seasons stretched out to feature length. Cheaply shot, discernibly under-written, decently acted, unimaginatively directed, and ultimately pointless – it simply adds nothing to the franchise or characters in any way. When the most memorable moment of the film is a cheap George W. Bush joke, many fans will be shaking their fists with rage that even with six years and a lot of freedom on the filmmakers part – so little visible effort has been put into it.
Deliberately avoiding falling back on the show’s mythology where possible (their fugitive status at the end of the series is just briefly dealt with), the story focuses on the setup that a female FBI agent has been kidnapped by a possible serial killer in North Virginia who is leaving body parts strewn around the region. Not only are Mulder and Scully brought in to consult by the new FBI kids on the block, so is a convicted pedophile priest with psychic visions (comedian Billy Connolly in the film’s only decent supporting role). In spite of a comically strange twist that would have Mary Shelley rolling in her grave, the main plot adheres to all the banal formulaic hallmarks of a bad Ashley Judd thriller.
This predictable tomfoolery is still better than the secondary storyline dealing with Scully’s attempts to save a kid stricken with a terminal illness. As she attempts radical treatment, the priest in charge of the hospital wants to kick him out which of course leads to some unenlightening verbal sparring more suited for a Lifetime Channel movie. Its cloying, redundant, and often awkwardly jammed together with the rest of the film which charges forward with its heavy-handed message of persistence despite the odds. That trite jingoism causes the more interesting topics of the abused becoming the abusers and even the black market in medical trafficking to be barely touched upon.
The blunt metaphor of Mulder and Scully’s stubborn quests to save the agent and the kid compensating for the sister and child they respectively lost seems oddly crude for the generally more creative writer/director Chris Carter. It’s not helped by the trademark long-winded monologues he gets Mulder and Scully to spout which ponders the usual issue of faith and science co-existing and clashing, though ultimately does little to resolve or even explore the issue.
More damning is the astonishingly flat direction. Carter makes decent use of his wintry outdoor Vancouver locations, but drops the ball on the film’s reveals and big moments with uneven editing. Scenes of affection between our characters, always a key moment in the show and first film, are treated with no weight – making it feel almost disrespectful. The kidnapping scene which opens the film would have been tense without all the jarring intercutting.
An action chase through Vancouver streets and abandoned buildings is confusingly shot, as is the almost torture porn style scenes of female victims harassed by men resembling both a Cylon and former New Line chief Bob Shaye. The score is also nicely off-kilter at times, but the film looks decidedly cheaper than its reported $35 million production budget and there’s an oddly nasty homophobic streak to it as well that will upset the slash fic writers.
The reunion of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson is a selling point here and it is good to see them together again, but the chemistry has visibly cooled – the once brooding and then loving energy between the two has gone. Instead we see something more along the lines of a long divorced couple – a touch affectionate, a lot of resentment, and reluctantly adjusted to the fact that they’ll never be entirely rid of each other. Duchovny himself often seems bored and never invested in his various scenes.
Anderson on the other hand, though there’s a tinge in her voice betraying obvious reluctance to return to a role she has moved on from, is the shining light here and does strong work in spite of her often arduous subplot. Xzibit and Amanda Peet are useless as the FBI agents in charge of the case, both given no personality or character other than serving as expository mouthpieces. Mitch Pileggi as Skinner pops up out of nowhere for ten minutes of the final act, but only to serve as Scully’s ‘muscle’.
The series remains amongst the most defining and influential genre shows of the past two decades, in spite of ending on a whimper. ‘I Want to Believe’ doesn’t change that assessment – only extending that whimper into a longer and painful howl. It’s neither good enough to rekindle interest nor so horrible as to foul memory of the show’s strengths which is a shame as even then it would at least encourage opinion and passion about the franchise again. I want to believe they were trying with this, but like the series itself – I felt cheated out of a real answer in the end by this stale, lethargic and massively disappointing footnote.