Rob Bowman’s “The X-Files” was everything I wanted from a cinematic extension of Chris Carter’s already film-worthy, wild and frightening weekly Fox series.
It’s also one of my favorite summer movies, a late ’90s sci-fi trip that has the tenacity to take its premise very far (and a little farther after that), generously leaving its audience with a thick coat of genre gratitude and paranoia.
While the onscreen title is simply “The X-Files” (and not, thankfully, the obvious and clunky “X-Files: The Movie”), most know this by its movie poster tagline — “The X-Files: Fight the Future.”
It begins, quite boldly, in “North Texas, 35,000 B.C.” and shows us two cavemen following a strange set of footprints that leads them back to their cave.
The terrific, violent prolog (that PG-13 rating is no joke) picks up in the 20th century, with a Lucas Black cameo and a modern-day introduction as to how both FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) fall into a vast conspiracy involving an extraterrestrial presence and planned takeover.
“Fight the Future” is massive in scale, playing like “The Parallax View” meets Whitley Streiber. Arriving in theaters between the end of season 5 and the beginning of season 6, the droll sense of humor on hand counters (but doesn’t eclipse) how disturbing much of this is.
This brisk, extra-pulpy yarn tells us that real conspiracies have no bottom or limits, only deep, ingrained layers.
The riveting introductory sequence for Mulder and Scully has some funny repartee but quickly turns to a chair gripper. A brief, eerie turn by Terry O’Quinn is another reason this part works like gangbusters.
Duchovny’s low-key, James Dean cool is, as always, perfectly contrasted with Anderson’s emotionally rich, moving work. The supporting cast has great bits from Glenn Headley, whose bartender allows for a nice summary of the TV show for newcomers, and a mesmerizing turn by Martin Landau, who is to this movie what Donald Sutherland was to Oliver Stone’s “JFK” (1991).
There are also nice turns from John Neville, Blythe Danner and another original series MVP, Mitch Pileggi as Skinner.
Landau’s declaration that Mulder is uncovering plans for “the plague to end all plagues” is much scarier now, even in sci-fi trappings. There is also a reference to FEMA as “the secret government” and an emphasis on vaccines.
I’m not trying to stir up controversy or suggest this movie was prophetic, but those moments are chilling to hear in a ‘98 summer movie.
The other night I was clicking through channels, and came across the second half of “X Files: Fight the Future.” That movie was the apex of the show. pic.twitter.com/YAECr8Oeo8
— Jim Geraghty (@jimgeraghty) July 21, 2022
A Weyland-Yutani-like cabal of villains is the core (human) threat, with arguably the scariest scene depicting the outcome of Jeffrey DeMunn’s character.
The “X-Files” TV series tropes are on hand, like the black goo, Mulder’s sister, the Cigarette Smoking Man and, the only real confusing appearance that won’t connect for non-fans, an appearance by The Lone Gunman.
Aside from that latter touch, the uninitiated will be able to play catch up.
Bowman keeps the onscreen type and feel of the office scenes in line with the TV series but clearly relishes Carter’s expansion from the small screen canvas. Mulder even urinates on a poster for “Independence Day” (1996) during one scene, a perfect diss and a clear message: this is big league sci-fi.
Naysayers argued that this is merely a two-hour TV episode. If so, then this is “The X-Files” at its best, a companion piece to the series when it was still in its prime.
Bowman and Carter start with the aesthetic and expectations of the series and just keep getting bigger with their ideas and presentation.
When we get to the second act, where Scully and Mulder are faced with a literal crossroads, seemingly a dead end, then take a chance on a hunch and just keep pushing forward, we’re seeing the essence of the series. Scully and Mulder aren’t always aware of what they’re chasing, only that they can’t stop.
I’m not saying that “Fight the Future” tops the best episodes of the series, or that those episodes aren’t on the level with what Bowman/Carter have pulled off here. Anything with Tooms, the Bryan Cranston-starring/Vince Gilligan penned “Drive,” the bonkers “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” the Stephen King penned “Chinga” and, my all-time favorite episode, “Bad Blood,” are all richly crafted and fiendishly imaginative.
I don’t think “The X-Files” as a TV show ever went downhill but, like “The Simpsons,” the best stuff is sometimes overlooked by the sheer volume of content.
I could go on about Mark Snow’s wonderful orchestration of the classic TV show theme, how wild everything gets once a cornfield appears, the tender hallway scene, and the queasy, unbelievably thrilling third act.
I’ll show some restraint and conclude with this: “Fight the Future” is exactly what I hoped an “X-Files” movie would be and, because of its willingness to take its premise very far and, yet, still conclude with ambiguity and leave a residue of pop paranoia.
It’s the kind of science fiction that has ideas that dazzle as much as the special effects.