I had to see this film for myself, having been a fan of the first 6 seasons and the first film ... so I caught a deserted 5pm show at the Grauman's Chinese Theater, despite the horrific reviews.
And I have to say ... they're fools.
Now, this isn't to say the film is great. Far from it. The flaws are rampant in first drafts, however, and could have been fixed with more attention. And the thing is, the parts that are good, are fantastic.
It works on three levels: Awesome, Alright, and Aweful.
The Awesome: Character and Themes
Mulder and Scully are back, but not as you remember them. They have matured, grown cynical from their complete rejection at the FBI. Scully is now a doctor in the private sector and Mulder lives in seclusion, turning a spare room at the back of a cabin into the paper-cluttered lair he had at the FBI - complete with pencils stuck in the ceiling from boredom.
When the FBI tried to pull Mulder back to help with a case, he refuses, and Scully talks him into it. Ultimately, she regrets her decision. She and Mulder, who fans will remember finally hooked up at the end of the show, are making a weird but peaceful life with each other. Once Mulder is on the case he snaps out of his lazy depression and shows signs of the old Mulder, mainly obsession with finding the truth. The thing is, Scully realizes she's tired. They spent almost a decade "looking into the darkness" with nothing to show for it, and she wants out. Even if it means losing Mulder.
Their scenes together are tender, emotional, and the best character work of the entire franchise. At these points in the movie everything changes - it's like the film making gets exponentially better. The camera work, lighting, and especially the dialog. It's like everyone inherently knew THIS was the real story, and it mattered to them.
This driving interpersonal story climaxes in a subtle and actually beautiful final moment, akin to the classic episode where Scully is kidnapped by a serial killer, one of the few episodes without a supernatural element that touched on the idea that the world is filled with enough darkness that we don't need an evil supernatural force to further burden our lives. This idea exists in I Want to Believe as well, and this surprisingly subtle theme is really quite touching and brilliant.
The Alright: Horror Plot and Secondary Characters
Here's the first thing about this film that could have been re-written: the horror plot. The thing is, it really isn't that exciting. Russian doctors that can take a severed head and sow it onto another body. I mean, that's cool and all, but so much LESS than what the show did, when movies need to have more OOMPH. Then, the secondary plot about a pedophile priest who is connected psychically to these events ... it's random, weird, and really falls apart in retrospect. Why are these Russian guys here in the first place? Why are they conducting these experiments in Connecticut? It makes no sense.
While Billy Connelly is quite good as the priest, he's drastically underused as a creepy plot device. And the two new FBI agents played by Amanda Peet and a forgettable rapper ... they're not bad, they're just pointless.
While the action is well directed - tight, dark, and b-moviesque just like the show - it ultimately doesn't matter that much because the danger is underwhelming and the characters boring.
The Awful: Three of the Worst Moments in Film since the First, Second, and Third Acts of The Happening
Amidst this greatness and competence comes three moments that are so wince-inducing, at least one of them will sound like a joke until you see it for yourself.
First, there is a moment when the duo has returned to the FBI and because they no longer have security clearance they are forced to wait in the hallway. Randomly, for no reason, Carter pans to a shot of George Bush's picture on the wall and plays the iconic X-Files theme while Mulder and Sculyl shoot eachother silly looks. It's so awkward I wanted to cry.
Second, the filmmakers felt that the audience would barely except a pedophile subplot, so they chose to help them with humor. Really awful, awkward, unfunny humor that revolves around "kissing his holy ass."
Third, after the perfect ending, Carter chose to add a vignette in the middle of the closing credits. This vignette involves Scully and Mulder in 50s-style bathing suits, sitting in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean, waving at the camera.
Go ahead, read that again, I'm not joking. It's as awful as it sounds. Not only is it standalone awful, it also directly contradicts the entire point of the incredible final scene!
So there you have it. If you've a fan, watch or rent. Otherwise, it's worth a miss.