The story is rather timeless: a cult series beloved by a rabid fanbase is cancelled before its time. What happened next though is not. The every-record-breaking achievement of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter was a wonder to behold, the ultimate fan expression of love and appreciation mixed in with those sticky issues of closure and inability to let go. The idea of a Veronica Mars movie kicked around the backlot of Warner Bros. for a while, but it’s only when the fans took over that it actually happened. Now two questions remain: will it satisfy the eager beavers who forked over $5.7 million for it, and will non-fans see the appeal?
The answer to the first question is a resounding and enthusiastic, yes. The Veronica Mars movie is a colorful cavalcade of beloved characters tenderly picking up the threads left behind from the series’ three seasons and weaving a new mystery that somehow, inexplicably, brings it all together. Love a good P.I. story with shifty characters, corrupt cops, and a million who-coulda-done-its? Then I’m sure you’ll be able to like Veronica Mars. The love, however, belongs to the fans.
Picking up some nine years after the series’ conclusion, we find that Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) P.I. has graduated to Veronica Mars, ESQ., that is to say that Veronica is about to become a newly minted lawyer at a big time New York firm. But then comes the phone call: “I need you, Veronica,” says her ex-boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring).
Logan has found himself at the centre of another tawdry murder, this time the bathtub electrocution of his on-again/off-again pop star girlfriend Carrie Bishop. Drawn back to her hometown Neptune, CA out of a mix of loyalty and a self-confessed addiction to getting drawn into the morally ambiguous muck, Veronica picks up her detective’s camera, stun gun and devil-may-care spirit, but considering what those things cost her before, what might they cost her now?
To the credit of writer/director Rob Thomas, who also created and produced the series for all three of its seasons, he manages to transfer Mars’ sense of neo-noir sensibilities across the years and the media quite well. Neptune is still a glistening fun in the sun hideaway for the rich and famous, but its shadows still lurk prominently, and seem to be closing in on anyone that is neither rich nor famous. You may not have seen Veronica Mars during its TV heyday, but you may be familiar with the similarly themed Brick, Rian Johnson’s first film that’s also a sun kissed teen tribute to Marlowe and Hammett.
There’s a lot going on in this film, with enough detail and plot to make Mars feel less like a reunion movie and more like a re-pilot of the entire concept. Thankfully, Thomas keeps the plotting tight, and the story moving quickly, as all the details and cameos seem to feed into the main plot and aren’t merely there for elaborate fan service.
It’s obvious that making a Mars movie is a passion project for Thomas, who has worked steadily in TV since the show’s cancellation. Unlike most passion projects though, Thomas doesn’t seem to be so enraptured by what a Veronica Mars movie should include, that he forgets what a Veronica Mars movie should be, which is compelling and enjoyable in its own right, regardless of the baggage you bring.
Oddly enough, the mystery itself is not that engaging, except that the murder of Carrie Bishop offers a look inside the adult lives of the 09ers, the clique of Neptune’s rich kids, and reveals that they’re just as capable of selfishly driven violence as their parents. Another element that I wasn’t that invested in, in stark relief to many Mars fans, is LoVe, the hot and cold romance of Logan and Veronica. Season three of the show seemed to deal with that handily and permanently, but the movie digs into it again. For people coming into Veronica Mars fresh, it’s probably not a problem, but I would have much preferred to see the time spent on Veronica’s love life go towards old friends like Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino), or new adversaries like Sheriff Dan Lamb (Jerry O’Connell), Neptune’s new and even more corrupt lawman.
What worked, and still works, is Bell’s ample charm and guile as Veronica, and she wears well the character’s dilemma of trying to sell herself on the idea that she isn’t meant to do the thing that she’s consistently demonstrated unswerving ability to do. Veronica gets her own Godfather III moment when she opens her box of “accessories” (“Would labeling it Pandora have seemed a little operatic?” her voiceover asks), and digs out her old P.I. items. Also still working is Veronica’s complicated relationship with her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni), who still exudes his own charm in the role, displaying equal parts concern, pride and chagrin in his daughter’s antics. As a fan I would have liked more father-daughter time, but Bell and Colantoni make every minute count.
What’s impossible to deny is that everyone is here out of the love for the show and the material. Everyone is invested and for those who ponied up their hard earned money to see the further adventures of their favorite characters, the experience is everything you had hoped for. Seeing Veronica punch out high school nemesis Madison Sinclair? Awesome (and a long time coming). Bell’s husband Dax Shepard in a silent cameo as an 09er propositioning Veronica on the dance floor? Hilarious for anyone who knows there’s a connection there. James Franco appearing as himself, and providing a key piece to the puzzle? An excellent touch, and one that not only breaks up the building tension, but feeds into that bizarre Franco mystique. Vinnie Van Lowe, Deputy Sacks, Corney, Leo D’Amato… if simply reading those names has you excited, you will not leave Veronica Mars disappointed.
For everyone else, don’t be shy. Veronica Mars is far from impregnable. It’s a sprawling character-driven movie that would not be outside the oeuvre of the indie crime film subgenre if it weren’t previously a beloved cult series. I don’t know if this proves the power of crowd sourcing or if it proves that the audience has a bigger megaphone in this competitive digital era of filmmaking, but I know that Veronica Mars makes a very compelling case for those arguments. Over 91,000 people did the heavy-lifting, saw the potential, and decided to make a Veronica Mars movie happen. What else is left to say? Other than, annoy tiny blonde one. Annoy like the wind.
Veronica Mars is a delicious and fulfilling outing for those who remember the series fondly, and even those who are non-fans should be able to follow along for most of the fun.