My inner X-Phile is still strong enough and impassioned enough, all these years after the series ended in a crush of sub-mediocre episodes that it seems only fair to give him the preamble:

The Fanboy's Tale
"Chris Carter certainly deserves praise for giving the second X-Files movie an especially canny subtitle: I want to believe, all right. I want to believe that the TV show that more or less defined my adolescence did not end the way it actually ended. I want to believe that there are still stories about Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) that deserve the telling, and that aren't mired in the soap opera trashiness where we left those iconic characters. I want to believe, at the very least, that Carter can toss out two hours of entertaining, spooky summer fare, that he was right to call this a stand-alone episode for the fans.

"I want to believe, and I don't. There's nothing about The X-Files: I Want to Believe that justifies extending the series legacy, all this time after the show went off the air to general catcalls and indifference. Scully's a doctor now, and Mulder is in hiding, and apparently they live together unless they don't - the muddle surrounding exactly what their relationship has been for six years is just one of the plot holes drifting lazily across Carter and Frank Spotnitz's script. Not, frankly, that anything in the film particularly drives me to care what's been going on with these characters for six years. Not if it was so boring that they could be dragged out of retirement by such a dreadfully uncompelling mystery - surely it's not the first time that Mulder has heard tell of a possible psychic in half-a-dozen years, but what about this psychic energizes him so?

"At best, the film recapitulates the same old themes of reason vs. faith, and the search for the paranormal as metaphor for the search for proof of God's existence, themes hit over and over in the show's run but never quite this explicitly; at best it's cagey about whether the paranormal element is real or not in way that the show very rarely achieved or even strove for; at best it gives us gentle in-jokes that are charming without being cloying; at best. At worst, there's a lot of running around back and forth, stretching out a story that would comfortably fill 45 minutes to more than twice that long, and a story that would serve just fine in the middle of the season, but doesn't work at all now. If Scully and Mulder had to be brought out of retirement, it had been better that it were for some particularly extraordinary case, not a flimsy is-he-or-isn't-he-psychic murder mystery. For the fans it may be, but I don't think I know who those fans are, who'd be satisfied with a mediocrity like this."

End the Fanboy's Tale

Fandom notwithstanding, the question has to be asked, six years after the show's finale and ten years after the last feature film, what possible void can a new X-Files movie fill? Nobody I know was clamoring for one, though certainly enough of us were more-or-less interested in the rumors that popped up every couple of years that I can see why 20th Century Fox pulled the trigger at long last.

The end result is hardly the most awful movie ever spun-off from a TV show - that title will long remain uncontested as long as Star Trek V: What Would God Need with a Starship? hasn't been erased from history* - nor is it close to the worst X-Files story ever filmed. It is nothing more dire than a colossal irrelevancy, a quietly successful CSI knock-off that would deserve naught but a quick run through the multiplexes in early April except for its title and the names of its protagonists. At the story level, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the film, other than a noticeable inattention to continuity (already not one of The X-Files' strong suits). Certainly, it's no worse than the confusing truncation of the show's mythology on display in the first feature, which had to please both fans and non-fans, and only barely did either. It's simply not remotely special enough to pull a long-dormant franchise out of mothballs, and far too routine to excite anybody who needs more than the names Scully and Mulder to plunk their change down for a movie ticket.

For the faithful, those names are enough for a little bit, at least. The film gets a solid 30 minutes, maybe more, just out of the novelty of seeing our favorite FBI agents (ex-) out and about again. Duchovny and Anderson slide back into the characters like it's been a couple of weeks since we last saw them, and though both certainly look older (and Duchovny starts the film with a giant crazy hermit beard), nothing about the performances suggest that this is anything other than the Mulder and Scully of yore, though they be a little bit freer with the 'shippy side of things. (Confidential to Chris Carter: "the fans" that this movie was "for" aren't all 'shippers. About half of us, in fact, would be very happy if that whole part of the series were flushed down the memory hole).

No, the problem lies not with Mulder and Scully. It lies with Carter himself, whose storytelling skills have been visibly slipping for some 11 years now, and who was surely not the best choice to direct this film. Could a better director have fixed the screenplay? Who knows? Certainly, Carter doesn't do much to move the film along through the increasingly repetitive scenes of "Trust not this fradulent priest/psychic!" "I want to trust him, and will follow him to an isolated frozen plain." "Ye gods, bodies are here!" "Still, in future it would not do to trust this fradulent priest/psychic!" Nor does he have much of a visual sense: most of the film is needlessly cramped, full of shots that lop of the top of heads or the the sides of rooms, fixated on close-ups where there needn't be close-ups; the sure sign of a TV veteran making his first movie, in other words. I Want to Believe is so busy and claustrophobic, that its already slow pace is dragged down even more; the few shots throughout the movie that are comparatively open and clean come as a tremendous relief, and point out the film that could have been, if only the director had focused on capturing the mystery of the big wide dark out there, and not constructing new ways to keep faces hidden from the camera until the last second.

What else is there to say? Veteran X-Files cinematographer Bill Roe makes the movie look an awful lot like the show did, dark and moody - though Carter doesn't make the most of either of those things. Veteran X-Files composer Mark Snow turns in a terrifically exciting score, far more expansive than I can remember him being with the show, ranging from the expected horror-movie tones to romantic violins and even some Philip Glass-inspired moments. These are not the sort of things we wanted out of our new X-Files movie; necessary things yes, but not enough to validate the film. I suppose in the end, it's pretty much what we all expected: not so sour an aftertaste as the end of the series proper left us with, but it's still hardly worthy of the X-Files name. God only knows if there will be another one; I want to believe not.

5/10