by Tony Dayoub
I fear this may be the last time we see The X-Files for some time, if not ever. It's not that the film is bad. In fact, it's quite a solid and suspenseful thriller that even someone unfamiliar with the sci-fi TV series can enjoy. But with 20th Century Fox showing little inclination to promote it, opening it the week after one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year, it is doubtful the film's box office will approach what it needs to in order for a sequel to be greenlit. Managing to keep the plot details secret from the show's fans, the anticipation built by its director and show creator, Chris Carter, is invariably going to lead to a big let-down for them who are probably expecting a bombastic return for Agents Mulder and Scully.
Running nine seasons, the series was a critical and commercial hit for Fox, but started petering out midway through its run, shortly after the theatrical release of The X-Files: Fight the Future, a movie that dealt with the show's mythology about an alien conspiracy. Maybe a third of the show's episodes posed more questions than it answered about said conspiracy, and the loyal core group of its fans were excited at the prospect that the movie would answer all of its questions. It didn't, of course, instead serving more as a summing-up of what fans had learned thus far, and propelling them into the sixth season of the show. Soon Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), lead FBI agent, would leave his partner, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) to fight the future with other less popular partners. Even the tired hardcore fans felt betrayed when the final episode, "The Truth", meant to finally close the book on the alien conspiracy, simply revealed that viewers already had all the pieces to the puzzle, and that it took little effort to rearrange them to get to the truth. Slogging through the alien conspiracy episodes when watching the show now can seem like a major chore.
After a six year absence from the airwaves, the stand-alone horror-tinged tales that were covered by the other two-thirds of the series are much more interesting. Thankfully, this movie has no connection to the first one. Carter smartly chooses to pare down his film's ambitions, and focuses here on the kind of story covered by those episodes. He and writer Frank Spotnitz tell the story through Scully, this time. And why shouldn't they? Mulder's one-man crusade had become taxing even to the actor who played him. Anderson's role was always the more difficult, and more interesting. As Mulder's skeptical foil, the Catholic Scully was grounded by science, yet open enough to take religious leaps of faith, if not alien-influenced ones. As we see at the outset of I Want to Believe, getting Mulder to return to the FBI and the X-Files is easy enough. This film is about Scully's dilemma, deciding whether she still has room in her life for Mulder, and all the darkness that both follows and fascinates him.
Out of respect to the creators, I won't reveal much more. The film is equal parts creepy, and humorous. You get many glimpses into the interesting dynamic between Duchovny and Anderson, which was always the best part of the show. The two leads still have that chemistry even in their quietest moments. And save for a few throwaway lines, and a supporting character, there is little series continuity to bog down the plot. The movie moves at quite a surprising clip all the way through the end of the credits, which if you're a fan, you'll want to stay for.
With I Want to Believe, Carter bravely risks his franchise, successfully giving us a more intimate version of The X-Files, one that rests squarely on the shoulder of its arguably less popular second lead, Gillian Anderson. Let's hope fans and the general audience are brave enough to sample it.