“That’s not my life any more.” — Dana Scully
“I know that.” — Fox Mulder
“You’re not understanding me. I can’t look into the darkness with you any more, Mulder. I cannot stand what it does to you or to me.” — Dana Scully
Six years after they were forced to go into hiding, Mulder and Scully find themselves needed by the Bureau again — utilizing their particular set of skills to locate a missing agent.
Max: By 2006, I had already completed my original rewatch of The X-Files with my roommate Kenji, and had befriended a group of Philes on the IMDB messageboard. Rumors of another feature film began virtually the moment the series went off the air, but legal issues plagued the development of a movie for years. That is, until Frank Spotnitz let on that everything had been resolved, David and Gillian were on board, and that filming would commence soon. X-Philes like Radhika and me experienced a resurgent interest in their beloved program that would only be matched by the moment this past March when we all learned about the new episodes to air in 2016. We later learned that Carter and company were crafting a Monster of the Week tale for the big screen, virtually dispensing with any references to the mythology.
I Want to Believe puts our heroes in much different places than we last left them. Scully is a doctor at a Catholic hospital, while Mulder is a reclusive shut-in who seemingly scours newspapers and other sources for conspiracy-related material. The two are approached by Special Agent in Charge Dakota Whitney who wants assistance finding a fellow agent, one of several women who have gone missing in Virginia — in exchange for dropping all charges stemming from Mulder’s escape. After some back and forth, Mulder and Scully find themselves back in those familiar corridors. They learn that a defrocked pedophiliac priest named Father Joe Crissman has been helping out with the case, experiencing psychic visions. Those visions lead the agents to the scenes of the disappearances and lots of severed body parts. Meanwhile, Scully is struggling with finding a cure for a sick boy in her care — all the while warning Mulder not to get too deep into the case.
The task force is unable to save the missing agent, whom we discover was a victim of a gruesome Russian organ-harvesting ring trying to keep one Franz Tomczeszyn alive. The body count rises (including Agent Whitney), and it is up to Agent Mosely Drummy and Mulder to corral the clues to locate the men responsible for the carnage. It wouldn’t be The X-Files without some metaphysical craziness and intuitive leaps, so leave it to Scully to suss out that Father Joe has a connection to the perpetrators. Tomczeszyn was one of the boys that he molested. Mulder finds the farm where all the surgeries are being performed, but is captured by the man responsible for procuring the women. Worried for Mulder’s safety, Scully contacts our favorite Assistant Director Walter Skinner to help locate him. Luckily, they do, saving another kidnapped woman and apprehending everyone involved in the ring. Later, Scully tries to comfort Mulder when the Bureau buries any mention of the psychic connections that broke the case, and later has to put her faith in the science that could potentially cure her patient.
Radhika: It is always a joy to see Mulder and Scully together on my screen, so I Want to Believe gains some points in that department, especially after the final season of miserable, lonely Scully. Both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson seem comfortable resuming the roles, and Mulder feels fairly in character — a little loony, a little sarcastic and determined to get to the bottom of a case. But while the two characters do all right for the most part, especially in conveying the years spent as colleagues, partners and now … lovers (yes, I’ll tolerate all the bones thrown to the shippers), I don’t particularly care for how Scully is written here. Logically speaking, it is not shocking that she’s tired of “the darkness,” as she calls it — after years of abductions, illnesses and fighting barrenness, only to give birth to a miracle child eventually given up for adoption, she deserves a break. But watching her go from being the one to convince Mulder to take on the case to then start lecturing him on how it is a surrogate search for his sister is jarringly inconsistent. Not to mention confusing, because as Mulder points out, he knows what happened to his sister and is generally at peace with it now. While it’s nice to see Scully pursue her own thing — practicing medicine on her own terms, even though I still cringe when I see her using Google as a resource — the Scully I see here doesn’t feel quite right. Something got lost in the writing, or maybe this simply has something to do with the fact that we haven’t had a chance to watch her during those years where she progressed to this point.
Max: I agree with Radhika about the years in between the finale and I Want to Believe. A great disservice is done not only to the characters but also us the audience in this respect. Mulder and Scully went through a lot of growth over the many years the show was on the air, and it was a treat to see two strangers grow into close friends and confidantes, earning each others respect and trust. Which makes me a bit hesitant now that I think about it to have to fill in the gaps of these last several years once the show comes back on the air in 2016 — six episodes are an awfully small window to do really good character work, but this is a minor worry at this point. The bleakness of this film informs just how tired the two of them are — tired of the darkness and the toll their former careers had on their lives. The rapport is still mostly intact, even though I miss their patented banter. Overall, I think we got a nice amount of time to check in with our heroes.
Max: The idea of a group of people stealing body parts so that someone could live a longer than usual life is a typical trope of the science fiction films that inspired many of the best episodes of The X-Files, so it is disheartening that the case we got here is just so boring and uninspired. At least the part that makes this an X-File — the psychic link — gives the story some juice, but even then it is just a retread from episodes past. A psychic bond helped Mulder and Scully catch bad men in “Oubliette” and “Mind’s Eye,” and even Agent Whitney mentions individuals like Luther Lee Boggs and Clyde Bruckman who claimed psychic ability. Don’t even get me started on the organ-harvesting ring, a group of poorly designed adversaries. We never really got a reason to care as to why Tomczeszyn was so important as to warrant all that bloodshed, and scenes at the farm reminded me too much of the kind of “torture porn” horror films that were all the rage around the time the film came out. The X-Files always used scares in the service of and to enhance a good story, not the other way around.
Radhika: I was pretty excited when this movie was first said to be a Monster of the Week type of flick. In my heart of hearts, I’ve always loved the standalone episodes — the mythology, while significant to the series and to pop culture, could easily feel tedious, but a spooky episode involving my two favorite FBI agents could always bring me joy. And yet, I Want to Believe disappoints — not because it is a Monster of the Week film, but because it’s a slightly poorly thought out, bizarrely not suspenseful movie that doesn’t really feature a Monster of the Week if you ask me. Now, of course you can argue that The X-Files has dealt with the seemingly ordinary horrors of the world here and there — and managed to do it well with barely a supernatural element (“Irresistible” and “Unruhe” come to mind). But everything is so underwritten here, it ultimately just feels like a demented case that didn’t even really require the expertise of Mulder and Scully in order to be solved. The psychic connection feels disconnected from what the plot ultimately ends up being about; and despite the darker lighting, flashlights and chase scenes, that quintessential spookiness is severely lacking. Throwing together serial abductors, killers, pedophilia, trans and gay characters does not an X-File make (and frankly, it all ages rather poorly as our society’s views evolve today). And as said before: A boring X-File is the worst kind of X-File.
Radhika: While the movie is ultimately about Mulder and Scully, there’s a little hodgepodge of supporting players here (as I texted a friend while rewatching the movie: “I forgot rapper Xzibit was in this!”). Xzibit (Alvin Joiner) and Amanda Peet are the agents that draw Mulder and Scully back to investigating, and frankly they’re mostly forgettable to me. The villains are also kind of forgettable to me, as you can tell by my tirade against the Monster of the Week. As a result, the return of Walter Skinner — a bit of a fan service that resulted in everyone at my theater bursting into applause — is the best part of the film for me. He’s barely in it. You can argue that he’s not really needed, but watching him cradle Mulder after rescuing him from a bad fate makes me chuckle every time. Nothing like seeing the surly one to make you remember some of the best parts of The X-Files.
Max: Xzibit and Amanda Peet are serviceable enough, but the supporting character that gets the most attention is that of Billy Connolly’s Father Joe. In the past, The X-Files‘ explorations of spirituality — particularly when it comes through Scully — are a mixed bag, but I found myself surprisingly compelled by the way she was affected by Father Joe. He got her (and by extension Mulder) to consider things about the work they did in the basement office that were unresolved or unsatisfied. There were times when I sympathized with Father Joe, despite knowing full well the monster he was. Yes, his story fell apart and became somewhat inconsequential as the film wore on, but at least he sticks with me in a way a lot of other people in the show’s rogues gallery don’t. And yes, the Skinman stole the last part of the film — love that guy.
Max: It is obvious that that Chris Carter wanted have the second film stand alone from the series’ mythology elements, but I think the film generally failed in its attempt at making a Monster of a Week for the big screen. A lot of the film seemed to pad out the running time, and if audiences fidgeted during some of the more lackluster episodes of the series, you can imagine how a lot of us felt with I Want to Believe, which is more than double the length. A lot of Philes also felt much of the film ended up being rather inconsequential: Mulder and Scully are mostly in the same place they were at the start of the movie, and the result is a work that feels like a dusted off reject from when the show was still on the air. It also doesn’t seem like much of a piece with the show itself — like a bizarro X-File. I remember saying to myself in the theatre while the credits rolled, “That was it?!?!” Not even the delightful moments of fan-service could sway my thoughts.
Radhika: I ultimately feel this film was underwritten and not particularly cohesive. I think that the elements needed to make an X-File were there, but perhaps a combination of timing, preemptive excitement to get the gang back together and budgets could have led to the slightly messy movie we ended up with. Like Max, I was fairly underwhelmed when I first watched the film, though it took me a little while to admit it. Rewatching it now, I still don’t really care for it very much. The film does generally look good, even if it didn’t have the budget Fight the Future did, but aside from a few enjoyable moments, this is far from something I’d point people to if I want them to get interested in The X-Files. Ultimately, while Fight the Future is still fun to watch, even if it’s not an example of cinematic genius, I would say that its moderate success, combined with this film’s not-so-great reception indicate that The X-Files is actually best where it began: On television. Despite the show runners’ and actors’ desires for the show to become a big screen contender, those hourly television episodes made The X-Files shine. Perhaps this is why the upcoming revival is a short order of episodes to be shown on TV. Frankly in an era where a lot of television series are telling better stories than the movies do, the revival may do a far better job concluding The X-Files than I Want to Believe ever could have. And I’ll be OK with that if it turns out that way.