Fans last saw ex-FBI agents Mulder and Scully in the alluringly titled two-part season finale, The Truth. But did it satisfy? In it we saw the X-Files being closed down for a third (and final?) time, we were ‘treated’ to a Mulder and Scully snog fest and, with the series ending in a shared motel room as the pair undressed, a tantalizing glimpse of an end to the ‘will they/won’t they?’ scenario. But did they? Didn’t they? Would the audience stick around for part two in the possible X-Files trilogy in order to find out? Eh, go on then.
It’s a joyless thriller, trying to hark back to its heyday when it had a new monster every week and sadly only reminding us how good it used to be.
It seems like a routine case for the FBI when one of their own goes missing from her home in rural Virginia during snowy season. That is until excommunicated local priest Father Joseph Crissman, a chain-smoking Billy Connolly, joins their investigation by claiming to be experiencing visions of the agent and saying that she is still alive.
Enter agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson). Or rather, disgraced Mulder and Doctor Scully. They’re called out of their enforced early retirements to act as advisers to the new agents in town, the naive ASAC Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and the token disbeliever Agent Mosley Drummy (Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner).
Then, when another girl goes missing with the same rare blood type as the agent, the FBI starts to question whether the disgraced Father Joe really is experiencing visions from God, or if he is actually embroiled in a plot to sell organs from the missing women on the black market.
At first it’s easy to see Billy Connolly’s Father Joe as clownish as he scampers ahead of the FBI search team like a randy, wild-haired tracker dog in the snow. Until you learn that he is a paedophile who has, as Scully eloquently puts it ‘buggered 37 choir boys’. Not so funny now then, eh? Now all smiles have been suitably chastised, the film can continue without the added pressure of actually entertaining. Harsh but true.
Fifteen years down the line, writer/director Chris Carter is an old hat at The X-Files formula. Mulder and Scully – check. Unexplained goings-on – check. Resident weirdo – check. That old plot hindrance, disbelief – it’s here by the truckload. So much so in fact that by the tenth plaintive uttering of ‘I want to believe’ you’re wishing somebody would do just to get it over with.
So what’s changed? Six years on after the events of the original series, Mulder is sporting new facial fuzz that handily indicates he can now be found filed under Weirdo in the X-Filing cabinet, and Scully is a boringly successful doctor. Frustratingly, Mulder still wants to believe, and Scully, despite years of evidence to the contrary, doesn’t. Oh yes, and they’re now together, in the driest possible way. Move over sexual tension and hello co-habitation. This is twenty-first century living.
After all these years Duchovny and Anderson could sleep walk through their old roles, and at some points seem to. Strangely, Scully is now more or less surplus to requirements. Her character has drifted so far away from their old life and The X-Files that she spends the majority of the film starring in her own spin-off medical drama that is as dull as it is pointless. This results in a disconnected narrative where Doctor Scully Googles stem-cell research while Mulder follows Connolly's Father Joe and his visions around a snowy field to find more limbs.
The plot is self-conscious; it steers frantically away from the unexplained and more towards the relative safety of the thriller genre. Where the first X-Files film came out all guns blazing, this second outing is a slow burner and a much quieter movie. Maybe we’re so overexposed to explosions, preternaturally staggering budgets and slick special effects that any film containing more than ten minutes of footage without at least one of these gets classed as boring. Maybe we should be more forgiving. But that won’t stop you longing for an alien half way through.
The X-Files series was a cult hit, there is no denying it. Alien conspiracies, The Unexplained, the odd tongue-in-cheek episode and that roguish self-awareness – it was awash in nineties ‘I want to believe’ mentality, and back then it fed people’s desire for conspiracy. Not that we don’t still want to believe in the odd government cover up, but this recent offering is banking on its audiences still wanting to believe while not actually offering them anything to believe in.
It’s a joyless thriller, trying to hark back to its heyday when it had a new monster every week and sadly only reminding us how good it used to be. Maybe I Want to Believe is simply testing the profitable waters for the possibility of a third film, set to feature the 2012 invasion promised in the season finale. Now that would be something to believe in.