There are two ways for me to look at The X-Files: I Want to Believe. The first way is to look at it as what I am, a former completely committed, occasionally obsessed, fan of the series who watched it religiously from the latter part of its second season, caught up with it between its second and third seasons, watching every repeat Fox had, and continuing on from there, finally to become disillusioned, disappointed and disheartened by the deterioration of the entire enterprise at some point around the sixth season, staying with it more out of habit than anything else, and searching, fruitlessly, for a sense of closure. The second way is to just approach it as impartially as possible, if that is possible, and see it as a film apart from its television origins, looking at it through whatever its successes and failures as such are. Rather than write two wholly different reviews, I plan on shapeshifting like that American Indian fellow in a long-ago episode entitled Shapes, looking at the film in one light at one moment and then in the other light at another moment.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe is like a bantam version of something that naturally leans to the most expansive, what with its vast, (sadly convoluted, from about the fifth season onward) labyrinthine mythology revolving around aliens, government conspiracies and the like. But even when compared to many of the better stand-alone episodes, I Want to Believe falls short. The paranormal storyline is weak, thin and despite a mediocre effort on the part of writers Chris Carter (who also directed) and Frank Spotnitz, is only tangentially linked to the equally more grounded and successful relationship drama storyline that is the heart of the film, between the former FBI agents and partners, the crusading, "spooky" Fox Mulder (an initially bearded David Duchovny!) and the radiantly smart, grounded but persistent Dana Scully (the more outwardly emotionally generous of the two).
That paranormal storyline involves a presumably psychic disgraced and defrocked former pedophile priest (Billy Connolly) who, for reasons unexplained (this would never have passed in the early glory days of the show), has some psychic connection to the kidnapping of a female FBI agent. Soon Agent Mosley Drummy--Carter always had a thing for delineatively representative names--played by Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner, looks for Scully, who's now a practicing doctor like she always wanted to be, who, in turn, gets Mulder into the game after being convinced that Mulder could help them find the missing agent. Amanda Peet plays another FBI agent, Dakota Whitney, who seems to have eyes for Mulder.
Mulder and Scully are a real, living-together couple now, and an abruptly introduced scene with the two of them in bed together is a jarring experience. As such, it's probably the most paranormally chimerical scene in the entire film, for good and bad. By focusing more on the domestic relationship between the two--always the heart of the series, and as K. Bowen says at http://www.antidisartsandent.blogspot.com/, the on-again, off-again questions about whether they would or would not get together (fans of the show were usually divided along "Shipper" and "No Romo" lines, the former pining for an inevitable union, the latter wishing it would never happen) were largely irrelevant: in their dissimilar methods and beliefs (he, a man feeling burned by God due to the disappearance of his sister, a rebellious atheist, maybe agnostic at best, who nevertheless wants to believe in the paranormal and most especially in the existence of extraterrestrial life, most pointedly symbolized by the poster that used to hang in his basement office with a UFO and the words "I Want to Believe" on it; she, raised Catholic, gradually losing her connection to the Church, skeptical in matters Mulder desperately wanted to believe in, a brilliant medical mind who kept her partner in check), and particularly in their united quest for "the truth," whatever it entailed, even if Scully found herself rationalizing things that otherwise made no scientific reason and sense.
As a curious kid, and perhaps especially a boy, I naturally sided with Mulder. That was in large part due to the series siding with Mulder. Invariably there would be inexplicable phenomenon, and Scully's often weak rationales failed to win over people more content to let their eyes tell them what was believable and not. Even when I was ten years old, however, I wanted Scully to be right at least sometimes, and that wish was granted when matters pertaining to Christian "paranormal" activity, such as a boy experiencing stigmata in one memorable third season episode; Mulder's incapability to broaden his borderline credulousness to these kinds of cases cast him in the "duh, you don't get it!" light.
More now than then, however, I understand that whether or not Scully was right or wrong any given week was not the most important issue. Like the best of sci-fi and horror--The X-Files was always somewhere between, with many episodes being scary (Carter said the basis for the show was that there was a lack of any scary shows, and he wanted a series that could "scare the pants off people")--the supernatural element was based in dramatic storytelling. Encountering life more fully when you become a little older, you come to understand rather quickly that skepticism is a perfectly healthy thing in most matters. Understanding where Scully is coming from is, resolutely, more important than thinking something along the lines of, "Your explanation countering the idea that this guy can control lightning just doesn't wash. You're flatly wrong!" (One most commendable aspect of the series was that Carter almost never allowed Mulder to bask in his rightness and Scully's wrongness. There was hardly ever a crude "I told you so," moment.)
That's where I Want to Believe most definitively fails. The paranormal story of the priest able to see some details of the case on which Mulder and Scully work relates to the mindsets of the pair, but in a clunky, distracting way. Compare this to a classic X-Files episode, Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose (which is very briefly referred to in this film) which starred Peter Boyle as a life insurance salesman cursed with seeing the often grisly details of a murderer on the loose in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The best episodes engendered a natural dramatic linkage between the banter and philosophical tug-o'-war between the two and the case they were working on. (The case motivated this, of course, but it was a circular affair: by the end of the episode, the writers made it clear that the story's main consequence had to do with the experience Mulder and Scully endured.) Beyond being a very funny episode at times, it hit the duo hard on an emotional level that organically fit. I Want to Believe, by contrast, feels ungainly, especially since the paranormal story feels like a mini-episode in the middle of the movie, which is honestly much more interested in the fate of a boy Scully wants to see live at her hospital and the relationship between she and Mulder. The more Carter and Spotnitz try to reward their "base" audience with nods and homages to the long-running series, like a third act appearance of a well-known supporting character, dealt both a handful of lines of dialogue and the thankless role of sidekick, the less successful it becomes.
And yet I Want to Believe is not the disaster you probably have been led to believe it is. Certain things work. Anderson and Duchovny (as it ought to be stated--she's the lead here) deliver the goods with their repartee, their emotional honesty and the comforting presence that they combine to create when they're placed together. The moment we old fans see she and he, talking with one another, all objectivity sort of goes out the window. We're just glad to see our two friends back, and we're pleased that, if they had to fall in love in the conventional sense, they did so, as one of them explains, because they fell in love with the other's stubbornness and intellectual prowess. One of the best attributes of the series, even when it was in desultory, depressing descent, was that you ultimately bought the relationship at its core. Yes, the series became, at best, a shell of its former self, and I would lie if I said I didn't feel betrayed by it. But sometimes what matters most, even in the most tumultuous and fatiguing of relationships, experiences and affiliations is last impressions. So long as that brightens our perspective, despite the flaws and missed opportunities, the troubling scenes and production limitations (it's a small, insular film, lacking the sprawl many will be expecting, and after seeing the film one wonders a little why it cost as much as thirty-five million dollars), it goes down as a win. Of course, that last bit is the X-Phile fan-boy geek writing. You're just going to have to accept it. However, even an objective reading of the film with its problems is a solidly favorable one. Don't expect to be wowed by this, because you surely won't be. If you're approaching it as a non-fan, just know you will be watching a character-based drama first and foremost. On that level, the film is different from just about anything out there. You will have to decide whether or not you believe in it.