It comes as no surprise that the latest, and probably final, chapter of the X-Files saga is failing at the box office. Not only is it going up against the box office juggernaut that is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight — but it also is based on a television show whose popularity peaked a decade ago and went off the air in 2002. However, I think there’s another element at play here that is keeping away crowds in droves: it’s too damn smart for the average American film goer.
That’s not to say that you need an extensive background in film studies to appreciate writer/director Chris Carter’s latest effort or that the movie rivals The Grand Illusion in terms of depth. However, it does challenge viewers in a way that many are not used to, which is a sad reflection on the state of audiences in this country. Yeah, I know, they’re mostly teens — and that depresses me even more.
The show’s stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, return in the roles that made them famous and it’s plain to see from the start that a great deal of water has passed under the bridge between Mulder and Scully since last we saw them. Their relationship has taken a predictable turn — but produced unpredictable results. Professionally, Mulder is in hiding from the FBI, convinced that he has been wronged by the agency he gave so many years to, as he has been left out to dry for adhering to his crackpot conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, Scully has moved on, having become a surgeon and she has become far too involved in a case involving a pre-teen boy who is suffering from a terminal illness that she cannot combat.
Obviously, it wouldn’t be an X-Files movie without some creepy goings-on and they are provided by disgraced priest, Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connelly) — a pedophile who has been excommunicated and he claims to have visions of young women being kidnapped and held in a mysterious location. This gets the FBI’s attention as one of those that were abducted happens to be an agent. Mulder is convinced to let bygones be bygones and lend his expertise to the case.
What follows is standard order for the series — but nonetheless creepy — as illegal organ donation, experiments Dr. Frankenstein would blanch at and two headed dogs all play key roles. While these elements, as ridiculous as they are, are rendered in an effective manner, the meat of the film comes from the renewed debate between its two leads that was the backbone of the series. Always the pragmatist, Scully doubts Crissman’s abilities as well as Mulder’s faith in him and his theories concerning the kidnapped victims. Grounded and relying only on facts, her resistance to take a leap of faith of any sort runs counter to Mulder who longs to find some solid proof for the beliefs his faith and optimism enable him to embrace.
This has been covered before in the series — but Duchovny and Anderson lend a conviction to the argument here that may be bolstered by the fact that they have gotten older and the experience each of the characters have gone through lend a degree of weight and poignancy to their positions. Even more satisfying is the fact that Carter allows one of them to change and come to the realization that the flipside of the coin they’ve adhered to may be valid.
With the exception of The Dark Knight, the summer movie season has been filled with the usual vacuous fodder that audiences cling to. While I am all for a well-produced piece of escapist entertainment, a steady diet of such product makes one dull, unimaginative and, frankly, a bit stupid. The X-Files 2: I Want to Believe isn’t a groundbreaking film by any stretch — but that it challenges the viewer to consider certain moral imperatives in a season devoted to films revolving around explosions and fart jokes makes it a daring piece of work that deserves to be salvaged from the scrap heap of indifference.