by Matthew Thompson
(I wrote this review as spoiler-free as possible for people who haven’t seen the movie and are curious how it turned out. I also put some more spoilery impressions into the bullets to mention a few things I wanted to talk about in more detail.)
The Veronica Mars movie represents something unique to me. The past couple years have brought news of a handful of revivals for television series thought gone for good. Despite my love of the medium, these announcements brought about a wide range of reactions from me. Arrested Development was a show I was happy to see more of, but was never a favorite of mine. 24 will return soon, but it is a show I never got into so not one I can get excited about. And the recent announcement of a Heroes reboot garnered the opposite of an excited reaction from me despite having watched the series to its original conclusion. Veronica Mars is different though. Ranking among my all-time favorite TV shows, it represented a possible revival I could be passionate about. I even helped donate to the Kickstarter. Based on early donations it probably didn’t need my help, but it felt cool to be involved in bringing something back however small my individual contribution may have been in the grand scheme of things. So of course, I was excited as hell to finally be able to watch the movie this weekend and am very satisfied with the final product after a couple viewings.
After briefly recapping the TV series, the movie checks in with an older Veronica Mars, living in New York, dating Stosh “Piz” Piznarski, and interviewing for her first lawyer job after having left her days of private investigating behind her years earlier. It isn’t long before something calls her back to her roots. It’s none other than former flame Logan Echolls who is in trouble with the law (surprise!) and asks Veronica for help. And so she heads back to Neptune where she runs into all kinds of old friends and enemies and gets lured back into solving yet another case just like the old days.
The case in question is the murder of Logan’s singer girlfriend Bonnie DeVille aka Carrie Bishop, a former classmate of Veronica and Logan’s back at Neptune High (though now played in her brief appearances in the movie by a different actress). Series creator Rob Thomas has done an admirable job of working in the type of classic investigation that V found herself dealing with back in the old days. He doesn’t have a full season of TV to drop little hints and let the sassy sleuth unravel the mystery while keeping the audience wondering, but we get a similarly fun case with all the trademarks of those longer form whodunits, just in a more compact form. The whole thing ends up involving old characters and new, tying in staples of the series like the Balboa County Sheriff’s department and class issues that always embroiled the seaside California town. And it ends with an enjoyably villainous culprit facing off with Miss Mars in one final exciting action sequence.
While the murder mystery acts as the central plot, this was clearly a movie made for the fans that helped make it happen. It is just loaded with references and guest appearances that will make big VM fans smile. Other than Veronica, Keith and Logan, I think Dick Cassablancas was my favorite part. He had me laughing during every one of his appearances whether he was teasing Veronica and Logan’s relationship that neither can seem to quit or whipping out a flask from his beltbuckle. Even little jokes like the one referencing the failed Season 4 pitch or that other Rob Thomas got a giggle out of me. Some of the fan service littered throughout the movie worked better than others. I can think of one notable guest appearance by an old cast member that I felt was a little shoehorned in. But none of them detract from the whole and I can’t blame them for going a little overboard trying to please fans given how the movie came to be.
And of course there is the love triangle. This seemed to be a large part of the marketing pre-release with all the silly Team Logan and Team Piz stuff. I won’t get into how it plays out here (I will in the bullets below), but I think both Logan and Piz come off as better potential suiters for Veronica. Piz is still the nice guy, but a little less spineless and certainly a bit cooler when compared to his Season 3 incarnation. And while Logan definitely remains the riskier option, he has changed quite a bit since we last saw him as well. A generally nicer guy, but not without the edge (or the baggage) that helped make him attractive to Veronica in the first place. In the end I think this aspect was handled well.
And the love triangle plays into a greater theme driving the film forward. One that finds Veronica trying to fight off the urge to return to her old life over what might be a brighter future. And the way things wrap up really worked for me. The ending isn’t the happiest one you will find, but that kind of ending would never fit the world of Veronica Mars. It’s bittersweet, but leaves things on a more appropriate note than the Season 3 finale. And yet it leaves things open for future stories in whatever form they might come.
- The Love Triangle: Was there ever any doubt how this would go? Again, I thought Piz came off a bit better here (I really didn’t like him in the show), but a slightly reformed Logan cancels out any help that would have given Piz in this already lopsided battle. I just think Veronica and Logan make sense. They are both a little damaged and they just work together.
- The Returning Appearances: Wallace is just awesome and him being able to steal someone’s permanent records because he is working at the school is just perfect. I loved the little appearances by Vinnie Van Lowe, Principal Clemmons and Corny to name a few.
- The Shoehorning: Celeste Kane seemed like the one that felt a little forced in there for the heck of it. I get why it sort of works in there for what they did with Weevil, but that whole plot wasn’t really the best part of the film anyway.
- Keith and Veronica’s father-daughter relationship continues to just be the best.
- This movie would have felt incomplete without Logan punching someone and the reunion brouhaha was so fun. Loved all the people jumping into it. And the movie just couldn’t resist dumping on Piz some more later when Dick showed the pic of him.
- I liked that the reunion was a relatively small part of the movie. I went in trying to know as little about the film as possible and I thought it’d be bigger deal. I think what we got was much better.
- So glad they made it so Dick didn’t know what actually happened with the crime on the boat.
- I laughed at the Dax Shepard appearance more than I should have. The James Franco bit was a little good (his description of the Tolkien thing he thought he was getting and wanting to pretend he was his assistant) and a little bad (the skinny jeans bit fell flat for me).
The Veronica Mars movie will probably be a solid watch for people unfamiliar with the series. But for fans it is something special. It ticks all the boxes this kind of project needed to. The writing is on point: snappy, witty and aged up to feel more appropriate to the older characters. There’s mystery and drama, suspense and action. Everything a Veronica Mars movie needed. And I hope the success of this film brings about some future stories in this world one way or another. Because it is going to be tough for me to stop at just one more hit of Veronica and company.