It’s been nine years since Veronica Mars left the town of Neptune, California, and nearly seven years since she waltzed off our TV screens. Now, living in New York and about to finish law school, it seems as though everything’s coming up Veronica. That is, until her ex-boyfriend, Logan, breaks nine years of silence. He has been accused of murdering his pop-star girlfriend, so he needs Veronica’s help. It’s back to Neptune for the former teen sleuth, and she soon finds herself pulled into a mystery that could cost her everything.
Veronica Mars was one of those shows. A critical darling with a small, but rabid fanbase that was unfortunately not enough to save the series’ bacon. It boasted a fantastic cast with great chemistry, wonderfully twisty story arcs, and a razor’s wit. It was the perfect remedy for a Buffy-shaped hole in the heart. Ultimately, it was low ratings and being on the UPN side of the merger with the WB network that tanked the show; Veronica Mars lasted a single season more before being cancelled for the kind of ratings the CW wished it had now, cancelled in favor of “quality programming” like The Vampire Diaries, The Carrie Diaries, and The Diaries Diaries.
It’s hard to look at this film as anything other than a fan. If you haven’t seen the series, I still think Veronica Mars works as a very solid mystery thriller about a young woman being drawn back in to a life she thought she’d left behind. The movie does give you a little bit of a recap at the beginning for new viewers that should be sufficient enough not to leave them confused, but it’s pretty obvious that the story was written with the expectation that you already have an affection this world and its characters. Just about every recurring character from the TV series returns in some capacity, though it’s occasionally too brief of a reunion. Veronica Mars manages to walk a fine line of being chock full of references and in-jokes that only the hardcore Marshmallows will get, but the story doesn’t rely on them so much that new initiates will be left scratching their heads.
So yes, it works as a standalone film, but it is what is was bred to be – a love letter to the fans, and it’s stuffed to the gills with everything a fan could ever want. Without that, the film might not seem like anything special. I’d strongly recommend seeing the TV series first to get the full effects of the movie, but then I’d strongly recommend seeing the TV series anyway. You’d be doing yourself quite a favor.
The mystery itself is an intriguing one. It’s a good vehicle for taking us into a lot of the different elements that give the town of Neptune its unique neo-noir flavor. There’s also a feeling of risk – just because this is our first trip back to Neptune in seven years, it doesn’t mean that creator, Rob Thomas, aka “the whore,” is going to hold our hand and not everything is going to be okay. Veronica Mars, as a movie, isn’t beholden to a weekly format like the TV series was. It doesn’t have to worry about being saddled with the aftermath on an ongoing basis, or pleasing the network, so it definitely seems as though all bets are off. Maybe Logan, with his history of violence, really did do it.
That’s not to say Veronica Mars was written with a reckless disregard for its legacy elements. Indeed, the story does an admirable job of finding our core characters nine years on, and then developing them in really interesting, yet logical ways in slightly less than two hours. And that’s no mean feat. The story allows for Veronica herself to take a hard look at what makes her who she is, and what she wants out of life. She has to face up to the more self-destructive aspects of herself, and how she chooses to deal with those things form the basis for a good deal of the emotional underpinning of the movie.
This is supported by strong performances from the entire cast, who slip into their old characters like they’d been secretly making seasons 4 through 10 in Kristen Bell’s backyard all this time. Of particular note is the wonderful Enrico Colantoni as Veronica’s county sheriff-turned-private eye father, Keith Mars. The relationship between the two of them was a hallmark of the TV series, and it’s brought into the film as wonderful as ever. Keith is as always protective of his daughter, but proud of her unique talents, although he’d rather she got out and lived a normal life. It’s clear how strong a bond Veronica has with her father, and their scenes together boast some of the best screwball banter out of a script already dripping with wonderful snark. You just can’t help but love watching the two of them bounce off of each other. Colantoni, much like Bell, was an excellent piece of casting all those years ago, and it’s still paying off now.
Jason Dohring’s return to the role of Logan is also equally impressive. Logan has always had fantastic chemistry with Veronica, albeit in a very different way than Keith. As the elder Mars observes, the kid does have a dark element to him. He’s an asshole with a heart of bronze. A lot of viewers of the TV show didn’t care for the adversarial relationship and the tumultuous romance Logan had with Veronica, but it’s one of those things that just makes sense to me. You put Logan and Veronica in a room together and sparks fly every time. He’s a self-destructive dickhole, but Veronica’s self-destructive too. They’re just magnetic to each other, and I don’t think they can really help themselves.
My biggest disappointment with the film was that I simply wanted more, and I suppose that’s very much to the movie’s credit. Two hours was just too short a stay in the world of Veronica Mars. This plot is the kind of story that would have unfolded over an entire season on TV, and probably would have been richer for it. That’s not to say it’s rushed or slipshod, but it zips along much quicker than fans might be used to, and simply lacks the time for some of the additional side roads and texture 22 hours would allow for. It’s like a season’s plot has been stripped to the bone and rebuilt as a lean and tightly-built affair. I hope the film proves successful, because if Warner Bros. decided to pull a Star Trek and make like six of these, I’d be cool with that. It wasn’t just a revisiting and conclusion to what had come before; it also feels like it could be the beginning of something new. I just hope we get to see where that takes us.
Note: If the film isn’t playing in your area, Warner Bros. has made it available as a day-one digital release on iTunes, Amazon streaming, and other VOD services for a rather modest fee. It’s probably a wise move for a cult film that’s so far only opened in major cities.