When Veronica Mars was airing on television, I didn’t watch. Hell, I barely even remember it being on. The mid-Aughts were a difficult period in my life for a variety of reasons, and I missed a lot of great shows that had the misfortune to premiere in my televisual deadzone – Deadwood, Supernatural, The Dresden Files, to name a few. Nowadays, things are a lot less complicated, which means I have a lot more time to pillage the back catalogue of Great Television. And during the month of January 2012, I did just that with Veronica Mars. When I say I watched that show, I mean I binge-watched it. Every bit of spare time was spent with Veronica, Keith, Wallace, and Logan. And when the Kickstarter popped up a few months later, I rushed to become one of those 91,585 backers eager to do anything and everything to bring Neptune back.
That being said, my anticipation was rippled with fret and a little bit of dread. Veronica Mars the television show was one of the top moments in television history, a shining beacon of greatness amongst a sea of mediocrity. Veronica was Buffy for the next generation, a tough girl who took no guff and always had a card up her sleeve. Kristen Bell played her perfectly, and imbued her with wit and cunning bravery. Rob Thomas never shied from the darker side of things, and, as in the season one finale, pushed Veronica to the breaking point just to watch her push back. I didn’t want to see that ruined. Would they be able to get all the actors back together? How good could the movie be with a $2 million budget? Would they make it to theatrical distribution or just release a bunch of crappy digital copies? The second and third seasons were exercises in patience testing at best, poorly thought out at worst; did that mean season one was unreplicatable or could lightning strike twice?
Yes. Emphatically, passionately, excitedly YES.
For those going into the movie blind, here’s the skinny: Veronica grew up in Neptune, California, an ocean side town populated by the super rich and the dirt poor, by the exploiters and abusers and their hapless victims. When her best friend is murdered, Veronica’s father, Sheriff Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), accuses the dead girl’s father and is driven from office. Mama Mars takes up the bottle and eventually flees town, leaving Mars the Elder and Mars the Younger to operate their PI firm together. Veronica’s descent from fortune and success eradicates her friendships and puts her at the bottom of the social pecking order. But her keen investigative skills and relentless determination make her the one person her classmates can turn to for help.
Over three seasons, Veronica – with help from her best friend Wallace – handles cases ranging from dog-napping to computer hacking to blackmail to rape to murder. She solves the mystery of Lilly Kane’s murder and the vicious crimes that spiral out from it, and becomes a target of a much bigger case, all while battling incompetent sheriffs, psychotic actors, pedophiles, and frat boys. And when she’s not out playing Encyclopedia Brown, she’s struggling with an epic love story with Logan (Jason Dohring), spanning years and continents, ruined lives, and bloodshed. The show was canceled after low ratings, but, like Firefly, none of us self-ascribed “Marshmallows” ever got over it. And like Firefly, at least we got a movie out of it. (Need more? Here ya go.)
Said movie picks up nine years after Veronica left Neptune. She’s just graduated from law school and is about to be accepted into a prestigious law firm in New York City, where she lives with her fiancé Piz (yes, Piz, *sigh*). Her future is falling perfectly into place, albeit a lot less exciting than what she prefers, when out of the blue she gets a call from Logan Echolls (yes, Logan, *dreamy sigh*). He’s accused of killing his songstress girlfriend Bonnie DeVille (aka Carrie Bishop, formerly played by Leighton Meester), but maintains his innocence. Sheriff Lamb 2.0 (Jerry O’Connell) is as much of an idiot as his younger brother but a heckuva lot more of an asshole, and looks forward to locking Logan up and reveling in the publicity. Piz (Chris Lowell, who is great in Enlisted, by the way) just wants her to go back to NYC to meet his parents and be his rich lawyer wife. Keith wants her to be happy and not make a mistake for the sake of fleeting emotions she can’t undo. Veronica already knows what she wants but isn’t ready to admit it.
Veronica only plans to go home for a few days, which turn into a few more days, then a few more after that. It’s also Neptune High’s ten year high school reunion. A lot has changed in the ensuing years, and not just for Veronica. Piz has somehow gotten more boring, Wallace is now a coach at Neptune High, Mac works for Kane Industries, Logan joined the military – and looks damn good in a uniform – and Weevil has a steady job and a family. But where Veronica goes, trouble follows. Or, perhaps she’s just better than everyone else at sensing its impending arrival. Almost as soon as she lands, chaos ensues and she can either go back to New York and let everyone else pick up the pieces, or stay and fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.
The conceit of the Ten Year Reunion both guarantees we’ll get to see all our favorite recurring characters and introduces key players for the show and movie in a way that doesn’t feel like shoehorning. On the docket are Dick Casablacas (Ryan Hansen), Weevil (Francis Capra), Gia Goodman (Krysten Ritter), Deputy Leo D’Amato (Max Greenfield, who I now only think of as Schmidt), Deputy Sacks (Brandon Hillock), Cliff McCormack (Daran Norris), Vinnie Van Lowe (Ken Marino), and Celeste Kane (Lisa Thornhill). The central murder mystery isn’t the strongest, but it does its job as best it can. The shortened running time does the mystery no favors, but doesn’t work against it, either. Veronica Mars worked best when it could stretch out a mystery throughout a full season, sprinkling red herrings and Easter eggs to keep the audience on its toes.
The best part about the mystery, as weird as this is to say, isn’t the murder but the underlying sexual assault. Veronica Mars is the only recent bit of film or television I can recall that doesn’t reduce the women to merely being rape victims. Too often, women in media are left to cry in the corner while the men go off and seek retribution, which turns the rape into a plot point for the betterment of the male lead rather than the woman who suffered through it. Veronica Mars women maintain their agency and think of themselves as survivors. They don’t let what was done to them define them or break them. They act and fight back in whatever ways, big or small, they can.
But no one’s really there to find out whodunnit anyway. No, we’re all watching Veronica Mars for Veronica Mars. And Logan. Mostly Veronica. But also mostly Logan. And Keith. And Wallace and Mac. And Dick, oh sweet Zeus, Dick. Veronica could give Sam Winchester a run for his money on “Dick is a dick” jokes (never not funny). The dialogue is as whip-smart and rapid-fire as always. As a teenager, her quips always had a sheen of youthful frivolity to it, but now that she’s older and has survived rape, attempted rape, and multiple attempts on her life, she carries a weight to her. Not a chip on her shoulder, more like a sense of world weariness, of preparing for the worst case scenario. She’s closer to what her father is like, a person who has seen the best and worst in people and who recognizes that even though the bad guys too frequently win, the battle is still worth fighting.
Veronica Mars the movie feels like coming home. It’s so full of callbacks and in-jokes that I can’t imagine what newcomers will think of it. It’s not impenetrable, but much of the dialogue will sail by merely as something clever rather than the reference point it’s meant to be. Hopefully it will inspire them to check out the show and see how it all began. Even if you’re a Kickstarter backer or have downloaded the digital release, I beg of you to see it in theaters. The more seats we fill, the more money they bring in, the more likely there is to be a sequel. Yes, we’re already getting a book series, but we could have so much more. There’s more than enough loose threads left by the film to fill out a movie or season. This is our chance. We did it once with Kickstarter, and we can do it again. Besides, this is the kind of movie that is best seen on the big screen with your friends. Get out there, Marshmallows.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.