More noise than signal

The X-Files: I Want To Believe

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

I feel relatively confident in saying that anyone in the Western world who has not suffered critical damage to their long term memories will remember the cult hit turned mainstream success of The X-Files on the gogglebox. A Sci-Fi/Horror that was substantially more of a horror than a sci-fi, outcast FBI Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and initially sceptic partner Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) hoofed their way through, barring the odd absence, nine seasons of oddities, conspiracies and nonsense to such acclaim that no less than Catatonia would write a song about them. The highest praise indeed.

Eventually faltering under the weight of its own mythology, near enough everyone including myself got somewhat bored of it around series seven and it underwent a decline into obscurity and cancellation. Series nine ends with Mulder on trial for the supposed murder of some sort of invulnerable supersoldier or some such nonsense that made little sense in my desperate attempts to catch up with the state of play before this film’s release, having missed this story arc entirely. At any rate, this served as little more than a McGuffin to put Mulder on trial and essentially try to recap the entire run of the show in an hour. It failed. There’s too damn much there to make a lick of sense when condensed, especially when much of it didn’t make a lick of sense to begin with. Y’know, what with the buried frozen alien sentient viruses and so forth.

Concluding with a convicted then escaped Mulder on the run with a death sentence hanging over his head, this film would have had to have gone some to introduce a potential new audience to the X-Files mythos and history as well as somehow rehabbing Mulder into the FBI fold. Realising this, it seems that Chris Carter decided to simply not bother. Swiftly all is forgiven and charges dropped as the feds decide it’s imperative to secure Mulder’s help on the case of a missing agent, to the extent that there’s the distinct impression that this film would have felt a lot more comfortable in the mid-season timeframe of the previous The X-Files Movie.

What turns a simple disappearance into an X-File, you may well ask. Turns out that the only leads the FBI have to go on are the psychic visions of a convicted pedophile priest Father Joe (Billy Connolly), and while agent in charge Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) is keen to grab any available help, no matter how unlikely, her right had man Mosley Drummy (rapper X-biscuit. Sorry, X-Zibit) is less keen on the idea. For that matter neither is Scully too fond of the idea of being dragged back into the day to day darkness of FBI life, having now returned to her day job of medical doctor in some god-bothering hospital. After a worryingly small amount of scepticism about the fed’s offers of a pardon, what with the death sentence and the FBI last seen being run by aliens seemingly sworn to destroy him and all that, Mulder seems keen to roll up his shirt sleeves and get dug in.

The case that follows, the exact details of which are perhaps best left well alone for those who want to watch the film at some point, certainly has its odd moments. However, merely ‘odd’ in the context of a universe that frequently features alien abductions and overarching international conspiracies comes across as rather disappointingly mundane. As is often the issue with small to big screen transitions, it’s difficult to escape the feeling that this is much more than a standard telly episode stretched to feature length. As The Simpsons Movie would prove, this isn’t a problem as long as it’s a good enough episode, but the problem with The X-Files: I Want to Believe is that it simply isn’t interesting enough.

It feels like a rejected fourth series filler script. The pacing is sedentary, and there are entire scenes of quite obvious filler, including an entire sub-plot about Scully’s care for a young boy in the hospital that adds nothing to the film apart from running time. The final reveal of the story’s point is certainly weird, but it’s only just X-Files weird, and not at all X-Files after six years of anticipation weird.

That said, this film was damned if it did and damned if it didn’t. After this length of time, launching straight into the middle of an alien infested, conspiracy riddled narrative that I suspect most of the hardcore fans would have wanted would have rendered this entirely impenetrable to even casual fans of the series, let alone newcomers. If you go back and watch the previous X-Files Movie, which sits between two series and makes no concessions to introducing anyone to what’s going on, you’re in trouble, unless your pop culture memory is particularly good. So you couldn’t launch right into a ‘proper’ X-File, and as mentioned, the last few TV episodes of the series proves that you’ll struggle to provide any meaningful recap and tell a story at the same time.

So, what’s a writer to do? On the evidence of this, it’s tell a slightly unusual thriller story that just so happens to guest star the cast of television’s popular X-Files. Which, while the only reasonable course of action open to anyone, doesn’t make this an X-File in anything more than name. Of course, it’s great to see the Mulder and Scully double act back on display. It’s great to hear the haunting, iconic theme music again. It’s cute to see the callbacks to the series. None of which are enough to dance around the fact that the central thrust of the piece just isn’t exciting or interesting enough to warrant a recommendation.

I’m not altogether sure that I want to believe, but I certainly wanted to like this film. Even with reasonable performances from everyone involved and a directorial style at least that feels like it belongs to the series, the story is just too weak to amount to more than a fart in a jacuzzi. I can’t help but wonder if an occasional TV mini-series wouldn’t have been a more appropriate format for this return than a movie. Well, more appropriate than this movie, at any rate. Come back when you’ve got a script involving shape-shifting lizardpeople furthering the Shadow Government’s agenda by turning Chicago’s water supply into jelly and we’ll talk. Until then, sling your hook, Spooky.

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