Unlike "Fight the Future", "I Want to Believe" dares to be original. It isn't what fans would expect: there are no aliens, no monsters, no Shadow Government, no mythology. Instead what we have here is a thought-provoking mystery-drama, with just a taste of the paranormal. Mulder and Scully are not only off the X-Files this time, they are off the FBI: Mulder is a reclusive renegade and Scully a staff surgeon in a Catholic hospital. They become entangled in a serial killer murder case when Mulder is needed to work with a strange psychic who may have some answers. When Scully approaches Mulder we see that he has grown a beard and is even more eccentric than before. The story progresses from there, as the two ex-agents assist the FBI in trying to rescue the serial killer's latest captive--only it is not the work of a single kidnapper, it's actually something far more insidious.
This film is excellent on every level one can realize: story writing and scriptwriting, acting, directing, photography, visual and sound effects, costume and makeup, set design and props, and of course Mark Snow's always-brilliant music. Yet, this film has fallen under mass critical scorn--from fans and critics alike. I can find only two excuses for this: 1. Gillian Anderson's delay in getting into character (after several years without playing Scully she was surprised to find it difficult to rediscover her character, especially without David Duchovny to work with straight away--in fact, Scully doesn't feel fully returned until near the end of the film.) And 2. It wasn't what fans and semi-fans of the franchise were expecting. As for the Scully thing, it's understandable (given the time away.) Anderson does deliver a solid acting job the entire time however, even while she is clearly out of character (which is something that only real fans would spot.)
As for the unexpected, so what? What does that have to do with the quality of a film? This is a beautiful, dramatic masterpiece. If it was a stand-alone movie which did not feature "X-Files" in its title, the same critics and moviegoers who were bashing this splendid film would have been praising it. "Fight the Future" earned more appraise than it deserved, mostly because it gave the fans what they expected (but did nothing new!) There actually are some interesting similarities between the two films: both have an older man who offers help to the agents and happens to be a child molester, both have snowy northern settings, both involve a woman being rescued, and in both films Mulder and Scully are officially off the X-Files.
"I Want to Believe" is a clumsy title. Obviously, after all they've seen, Mulder and Scully would be "believers" by now. However, everyday "reality" does have its way of alienating a person from a deeper view. Optimism is the driving force of this film, and so perhaps the word "Believe" in the title was intended as a sly reference to this. If that were the case, what a shame that it was so unrealized.
The title aside, this is a solid and powerful film which I would highly recommend to all movie lovers. It just doesn't get any better than this (not these days anyway!) I do look forward to a third X-Files film and I do hope that it returns to the alien cover-up and mythological background which I've grown to love. In the meanwhile, I will enjoy reviewing this underappreciated masterpiece of filmmaking. I hope you will do the same.