The X-Files: I Want To Believe

The X-Files: I Want To Believe


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

It's been six years, but after a production shrouded in mystery (FBI-standard levels of security were employed to prevent plot spoilers leaking out) the second X-Files movie is here. Was it worth the wait?

I'm perhaps not the best person to pass judgment; after initially being blown away by the first few series of Chris Carter's groundbreaking television epic, I felt The X-Files became increasingly convoluted and self-referential and I never even got round to checking out the first movie. So perhaps I lack the encyclopaedic knowledge of and commitment to its unique mythology necessary to truly assess how this new case for Mulder and Scully fits into the pantheon.

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But I was as hooked as anyone when that first episode aired one Monday night on BBC 2, 15 years ago, and I know great storytelling when I see it. In its heyday The X-Files combined original ideas, edge-of-the-seat tension and Hollywood-standard production values to create a genuine television classic – and one of the best will-they/won't-they partnerships ever seen, on small screen or large.

The avowed point of Carter's return to the fray (aided by series veteran Spotnitz) was to create a stand-alone adventure, requiring little if any prior familiarity with the show's set-up. So has he squared the circle and created a tale that will both satisfy the fanboys and entice the casual punter in a blockbuster season full of new heroes and mythologies (its US opening, at the same time as The Dark Knight, has apparently resulted in muted box-office)?

Initially, I thought he had. Returning to the wintry location of Vancouver (though the story is set in the Virginia countryside) where the best of the TV shows were filmed, Carter opens with that iconic theme tune and typed dateline, then plunges straight into a cross-cut opening, where a young woman is chased through the night by barely-glimpsed assailants and a tall-grey-haired man leads a phalanx of FBI agents across a frozen lake the next morning, using apparently psychic powers to find a grisly clue to her disappearance.

The missing woman is a fellow FBI agent and the man is Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly), a former priest convicted of paedophilia who has begun to have visions relating to the case – visions which are, of course, so tantalisingly vague that conventional investigation methods are of little use in getting to the bottom of the case.

Well, who you gonna call? Guessed it in one – chief investigator Whitney (Amanda Peet) tracks down former agent Scully (Anderson), now working as a paediatric surgeon in a Catholic charity-funded hospital, and asks her to track her old sexual-sparring partner Mulder (Duchovny), expelled from the bureau six years ago and in hiding ever since.

She does so (with a fair degree of ease, it has to be said; his disappearance from the world seems to have consisted in buying a remote house and growing a bit of a beard) and asks him to come onboard in return for amnesty. After some reluctance, he does so and immediately forms a bond with the troubled Crissman. Scully, on the other hand, is repulsed by Crissman and steps down from the case, devoting her energies to trying to save a terminally-ill child using a new and controversial form of stem cell treatment. But as Mulder's investigation progresses, and another young woman is abducted, it becomes clear that the case will be a personal one for both of them...

The problem is that, shorn of its paranormal trappings and familiar faces, the story boils down to a pretty familiar chase scenario, with a very scary man running around doing very bad things, while the good guys arrive just that little bit too late. Kept lean and mean, it could have been a winner, but Carter and Spotnitz obviously wanted to explore the Mulder-Scully dynamic once again, so there are lengthy scenes where they have a good old chat about where they are now and what's gone on in the past. Manna from heaven for the fans, perhaps, but it does rather dissipate the tension.

Add to that a few holes in the plot, building to a not very convincing revelation, and some awkward jumps in our heroes' intimacy levels (leading me to suspect there was a bit of drastic editing to bring this one in well under the two-hour mark) and you end up with that familiar sub-species – a big-screen TV spinoff that would have worked better as a tight 50-minute episode.

Without giving too much away, what the bad guys (all stereotyped east Europeans, for some reason) are doing is basically 'Frankenstein science' – a very topical issue, no doubt, and one that resonates with the Scully sub-plot, but the details are very sketchy and the climax mixes a dubious nod to the 'torture porn' genre with pure sci-fi. The very graphic violence (I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone with a fear of hospitals - or farming implements for that matter) and other gimmicky touches like the casting of rapper Xzibit as Whitney's sceptical, rational subordinate (see what they did there?!) seem to suggest that Carter wants to prove that post-CSI et all, the X-Files can still be as cool and edgy as ever. He'd have done better to keep the central idea as scarily plausible as the best of the TV shows were.

And his heroes don't need all that extra screen time to reignite the old spark. Basically, it doesn't matter if Anderson wins her weight in BAFTAS and Duchovny becomes everyone's favourite James Bond and the definitive Hamlet to boot – these are still the roles they'll be best remembered for, and they still fit like well-worn gloves.

The supporting cast are equally impressive – Brit audiences may still do a bit of a double-take when presented with the Big Yin as a serious act-or, but here he's a powerful mix of reluctant seer and tarnished Man of God (drawing perhaps on his own childhood upbringing). And Peet does a lot with an underwritten part, bringing a feistiness and intelligence that conjures up memories of Anderson's early days as Scully.

There are enough reappearing characters and hints at the broader X-Files universe to keep the fans happy, plus some undeniably effective images (Crissman crying tears of blood, FBI footsoldiers looking like a lost legion as they conduct a night search in the winter landscape) and ideas. But after all these years, it's hard not to feel a sense of anti-climax. The truth is out there - and the truth is that the reputation and affection Carter's creation has earned will last without any need for periodic reboots.

Reviewed on: 29 Jul 2008
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The X-Files: I Want To Believe packshot
Mulder and Scully are reunited for a case involving a disgraced priest who has psychic visions linked to a series of gruesome abductions.
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Director: Chris Carter

Writer: Frank Spotnitz, Chris Carter

Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Xzibit, Callum Keith Rennie, Adam Godley, Alex Diakun, Nicki Aycox, Fagin Woodcock, Marco Niccoli

Year: 2008

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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