After a shockingly successful Kickstarter campaign last year, Veronica Mars, the little UPN cult favourite that could, returns as a feature film with a brand new murder mystery.
Let’s bitch it out…I won’t try to claim any kind of objectivity when it comes to Veronica Mars. I definitely consider myself a marshmallow (a term used to describe both the fans of the show, as well as the titular character, played by Kristen Bell) and while I can’t claim to have the same capacity to recite obscure details of the show the way I can with Buffy (the show that pre-dated Veronica Mars in my heart), I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I couldn’t be happier to see my favourite teen detective back in the saddle.
Having just re-watched the pilot in anticipation of the film, it’s clear that writer / director Rob Thomas is still very much in tune with the components that made his series so beloved when it aired from 2004-2007. The dialogue is whip-smart and the characters are delightful, which is good because those are the two main selling features of the film. Despite my enthusiasm at seeing everyone again, however, I won’t lie and say that this is a perfect adaptation: some elements will prove uninteresting to non-fans who are attracted due to the hype, at times the pacing is a bit off, and, most disappointingly, the case that brings Veronica out of retirement and back to Neptune isn’t the most compelling.
That case is the murder of Logan Echolls’ (Jason Dohring) pop-star girlfriend. The fact that we never met her before is a strong contributing factor to “meh” factor of the case. The only true strong driver is that Logan has been accused of the crime, which means it’s up to Veronica to save him. In true noir fashion, this requires dragging Veronica out of her safe and happy existence (which includes a plum job at a NY law firm and life with Chris Lowell’s safe, if adorable, Piz) and back into the seediness of the city of Neptune. Naturally the case occurs at the same time as Veronica’s ten year high school reunion, which allows Veronica to mix and mingle with a variety of old classmates and potential suspects, including drunken moron Dick (Ryan Hansen), party girl Gia (Krysten Ritter), Luke (Sam Worthington), Cobb (Martin Starr) and Weevil (Francis Capra). Along the way she also gets some face time with her inappropriate fling, Deputy Leo (Max Greenfield), BFFs Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino), as well as her private dick father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni) with whom she has the best father/daughter relationship in recent television/cinematic history.
For fans I would imagine that the return of these familiar faces is the main attraction (Some not so much – it took me most of the film to figure out whether Sam Worthington and Martin Starr had actually appeared on the series. Worthington: yes. Starr: no, although he was on Rob Thomas’ follow-up series, Party Down).
The film both works and suffers because it feels like an extra-long episode of the series. That’s a challenge because as a feature film, it does lack a bit of grandeur: it’s not the sweeping space opera that Joss Whedon so ambitiously tried to deliver when he turned Firefly into Serenity (though that, too, was a bit of a mixed bag). Since the majority of people will be seeing this film on VOD or as a digital copy, however, the film fits the viewing environment. It’s entertaining, funny and it contains everything fans could hope for in a fashion that feels very appropriate for home viewing.
Despite not having seen an episode in a few years (aside from the pilot), it’s easy to pick things back up. Everything is so accessible that non-fans won’t be left in the dark even if they don’t understand why it’s such a kick seeing Veronica rip into Madison Sinclair or hear Ken Marino’s Vinnie Van Lowe make disgusting sexual innuendos. Plus, the ending – which provides closure on the case and satisfies the hardcore ‘shippers – is open enough to accommodate future adventures, which means that if Warner Brothers can find a way to make a profit off the film and its ancillaries, this may be the start of more Mars. Even if the film turns out to be a one and done, however, it’s hugely satisfying to see Bell return to her best role. In many ways, it’s as though Veronica Mars (the character and the series) never went away.
Key call-backs for fans:
- The disparity between the rich and the poor remains a key topic, although it is not the main concern of the film. Clearly Neptune has gotten a lot worse in the intervening years (no doubt courtesy of Jerry O’Connell’s inept Sheriff Don Lamb, the older brother of previous Sheriff Don Lamb)
- The challenging (read: frequently confusing) second season arc is brought up the moment Gia and Veronica meet, though the dialogue covers the pertinent details.
- Interestingly, the third season sex tape Veronica unwittingly participated in with Logan is a repeated topic of conversation.
- There’s a quick throwaway line about Thomas’ fourth season pitch to The WB which would have followed Veronica as an FBI agent. It’s brief, but quite funny.
- The recurring theme of Veronica’s “addiction” to solving crimes is occasionally paralleled with her mother Leanne’s alcoholism. This is one component I was unsure about. Most critics praise the suggestion that being a PI is bad for Veronica, but I never felt that throughout the series. The ending has it both ways, but I wonder if fans find this element contentious?
- The Kane family is barely present aside from a brief mention of one character’s work history and a sudden twist involving Weevil. Rumour has it that Thomas hoped to include a sequence with Duncan and Lily, but neither they, nor Logan’s father, appear.
- Finally, much like during the show’s run when it was trying to garner more exposure, there are several celebrity cameos in the film. One of them – around whom a fairly important plot point centers – just made me grit my teeth. Let me know how you felt about this person’s appearance in the comments.
What’s your take, marshmallows? Did the film live up to your expectations? If you’re a newbie, did you struggle to make sense of things? What surprised / excited / pleased you? Did you enjoy the cameos? Was someone missing? And how do you feel about the ending? Hit the comments below with your thoughts.
Veronica Mars is now available in select AMC theaters and on VOD. All three seasons of the series are available on DVD.