March 29, 2014 by Jason Seligson
Some people say she’s a marshmallow. One thing’s certain: The story behind the creation of The Veronica Mars Movie is unlike any film ever made. Its record-breaking Kickstarter campaign had over 90,000 fans donate to see the film happen. After a year of anticipation, Mars was finally released—in fewer than 300 theaters, as well as on demand—on March 14. So, how did it all turn out?
The movie opens nine years after the series ended. Veronica is living in New York, being interviewed at a prestigious law firm. It’s quickly established that Veronica hasn’t worked an investigation in nine years; “The price was too high,” she tells one of the firm’s partners, Gayle Buckley (Jamie Lee Curtis). She says her choice to leave was mostly because of her dad (In the series finale, her father Keith tampered with evidence to protect Veronica; a decision which cost him the re-election for Sheriff). Veronica is poised to get the job at the firm—and that’s not all that’s looking bright: things are going well in her personal life too. She’s dating Piz (Chris Lowell) again, the brief boyfriend from her freshman year at Hearst College. Veronica seems happy in the life that she’s made for herself—but because this is Veronica Mars, the audience knows her newfound independence and apparent bliss is fleeting.
That bliss is interrupted by a single phone call from one Logan Echolls. Logan (Jason Dohring) is suspected of murdering his girlfriend, the singer Bonnie Deville—and he wants Veronica to help prove his innocence. Thus, Veronica heads back to Neptune after nine years of radio silence. Series creator Rob Thomas says that the movie has a very Godfather III vibe in how Veronica is drawn back to the life she tried to leave behind. She reunites with her father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), who is still working at “Mars Investigations,” and her best friends, Mac (Tina Majorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III). It wouldn’t feel like Veronica Mars without taking a trip down memory lane; naturally, the timing of Veronica’s investigation coincides with her ten-year high school reunion.
Though Veronica attends begrudgingly, the reunion gives an opportunity to see even more old faces, like Gia Goodman (Krysten Ritter) and quintessential popular girl Madison Sinclair, as well as introduce new ones, including Stu Cobbler (Party Down’s Martin Starr). Piz also drops in for the reunion just in time for the big brawl that breaks out once Madison plays his and Veronica’s old sex tape. Later on, Piz breaks up with Veronica after she misses her flight back to New York to meet his parents. In Veronica’s mind, she’s close to solving the case, and can’t leave yet. In typical fashion for her character, she’s doing something for the greater good, but that doesn’t mean that other people aren’t hurt in the process.
A subplot throughout the movie features Keith and Deputy Sax as they deal with the corrupt Sheriff’s department. When a hit-and-run kills Sax and critically injures Keith, Veronica seeks comfort in the arms of Logan. Veronica gradually gets closer to finding Bonnie’s killer, and after putting herself in mortal danger (a trademark character flaw of hers), she ultimately solves the case. She and Logan reunite, and Veronica decides to stay in Neptune for the time being.
Rare is the film that doesn’t have its share of detractors; such is the case with Veronica Mars. The biggest complaint I’ve heard from television and film critics is that the movie gave too much to the fans. The tamest version of this argument proposes that many of the film’s cameos, although nice, weren’t essential to the plot. I can somewhat agree with this—while I loved seeing old faces from the show—for example, Ken Marino reprise his role as sleazy P.I. Vinnie Van Lowe—I also realize that he wasn’t exactly imperative to the plot. Fair enough. The worst version of this argument says that the movie felt like fan fiction. This is a qualm that I don’t agree with remotely, and one that I find troubling to wrap my head around. To play devil’s advocate, had the film gone in the opposite direction and made to be completely accessible to a new audience, wouldn’t there have been an outcry at the lack of recognition for the show that fans once knew and loved? To that end, wouldn’t failing to include substantial references to the show’s three-season history ultimately defeat the purpose of rebooting the franchise as a film in the first place?
Make no mistake: Veronica Mars was resurrected—brought back from the dead. It’s not that fans didn’t want something new, but here’s the thing: there had to be a catching up period. Mars was a teen noir show. For any of this to work seven years later (nine in the story’s time frame), the audience had to be introduced and “sold” on an adult version of Veronica. But it’s important to remember that this was a litmus test; this was the thing that could have easily failed had the fan support fallen short.
From everything that has been said in press interviews, it sounds like Thomas and the rest of the cast want to keep telling Veronica Mars stories in whatever medium they can. It saddens me to think that a handful of critics trashed the film for having such an altruistic motivation of giving back to the fans. This was the beginning of something, and if this was truly, as I believe it was intended to be, a revival of the Mars franchise, then a certain degree of patience is required. Hopefully, there will be time for more of what people love about the show—darker, more intricately plotted mysteries, for instance—in future movies, or a Netflix season, or any other opportunity to continue the story. Certain critics who championed the film initially may have changed their tune afterward, but Thomas and his team made a satisfying movie for their fans, and they should be proud of that.
The Veronica Mars fans deserve a movie that’s for them—they’ve waited seven years for it. I wholly reject the notion that the fans had too much influence on the movie; or that the story was somehow of a lesser caliber than anything previously written by its brilliant creator. This is Thomas’ baby, and along with holding the creative reigns, he is first and foremost, a fan himself. Everything that happened in this movie happened because he (and co-writer Dianne Ruggiero) wanted it to. That’s not to say that the fans had zero influence on the script—they are irrefutably the reason the film became a reality (and the Kickstarter crowd sourcing method of financing the movie may be the reason Thomas scrapped his initial idea to follow Veronica as an FBI agent), but the fans most certainly did not dictate the story itself. Also let’s be honest: a movie that didn’t give us Wallace, Mac, Weevil, and Piz would have been a letdown. It might have been a good movie, but it wouldn’t have felt like the same show we knew and loved.
As it is, The Veronica Mars Movie is extremely satisfying for fans of the show. All of the characters are here, their voices perfectly rendered, as if preserved in amber. But their growth feels earned—Wallace being J.V. Basketball coach, Mac working for Kane software, or Weevil giving up his PCH days behind him for his wife and daughter. And Dick is, well, Dick (although kudos to Thomas for including that line about him being depressive). The relationships are equally gripping—be they Veronica and Keith, Veronica and Logan, or even the overarching unrest between the 09ers and the Weevils of the world (or of Neptune).
Although it’s not enough to fill in those who never watched the series, a brief voice-over makes a valiant effort to catch non-fans up to speed. My favorite line of this introduction is about the town of Neptune itself: “When the class war comes, Neptune will be Ground Zero.” It might not sound like riveting television, but I’ve always felt that the way Mars addressed socioeconomic status and inequality was both compelling and realistic. I was happy to see that Neptune itself—always a pivotal setting for the TV show—was a crucial character in the movie as well. Between the newly appointed Sheriff Dan Lamb (who is in fact, just as big a clown as his younger brother), dirty cops run rampant, and the law is secondary to what will make a good TMZ headline. It’s this same injustice that always existed behind Neptune’s gilded shell that forces Veronica to stay in Neptune by the film’s end. It is repeatedly mentioned that Neptune is toxic, a cesspool that’s impossible for anyone to escape—except that Veronica did.
Implementing a signature device from the show, the movie makes use of voice-over; so the audience is effectively clued into the ongoing battle going in Veronica’s head—giving her life up in New York versus making her trip home more permanent. As much as she tries to rationalize all of the good things she’s gained since leaving, she jokes that she’s an “addict.” Before the credits roll, Veronica has decided to stay in Neptune, place, feeling it’s where she truly belongs. This is exactly why Veronica’s final choice to stay in Neptune holds so much weight.“Wipe me clean, I don’t recognize myself,” she says as she walks through the doors of Mars Investigations in the final scene. Watching the show, I was keenly aware of how important it was to have Veronica doing what she was doing, fighting the good fight; but somehow the scope still seemed smaller than it is now that Veronica is an adult. It wasn’t until I came out of the movie that I realized that Veronica and Keith are warriors—and Neptune is their battlefield. Like all good superheroes, their fight may not have a fixed or a clear endpoint, but one thing is clear: they’re needed now more than ever.
The film did well at the box office, earning $2 million in its opening weekend. It’s a number that sounds especially impressive considering the movie’s limited theatrical release. The fans certainly came through—some having to search far and wide for their nearest theater. Warner Bros. seems happy with the film’s performance, and have already announced plans to expand Mars’ release. Whether or not it’s enough to jumpstart a sequel remains to be seen. I sincerely hope we get more Mars on our screens in the near future, but for now, I’m choosing to revel in what we do have: a really great movie.