“Veronica Mars” is Back! How Does It Shape Up For Newcomers and Fans?

Veronica Mars

vm-posterRelease Date: March 14, 2014
Cast: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Krysten Ritter, Ryan Hansen, Chris Lowell, Tina Majorino, Enrico Colantoni
Director: Rob Thomas
Studio: Warner Bros Digital, Spoondolie Productions
Distributor: Warner Bros Pictures
Genre(s): Crime, Comedy, Drama
Based On Veronica Mars (TV Show)

Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Spoilers: Low
IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes | Wikipedia

“A long time ago, we used to be friends” is how the Veronica Mars theme starts. My problem is? I haven’t made friends with Veronica Mars

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to. I remember when it was a big deal that Joss Whedon guest starred on the showed and when it got cancelled. I know a ton of people who enjoy the show. I even backed the historical Kickstarter project for the movie on basic principle.

But for whatever reason over the past nine years, I haven’t taken the time to watch the show. The latest one is a deadline for a project that kept me from mainlining the series the week before the screening attended. My worst fear for an assignment came true: I was going in completely unprepared.

Which, really, kind of benefited me in the end.

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The first two minutes of the film Veronica Mars explains everything you need to know up until this point: Popular teen girl becomes private detective to cope with best friend’s death, her and her dad are basically outcasted by their own town, girl has wild tempestuous relationship with best friend’s ex, and in the end, the girl leaves and hasn’t looked back.

Until now, that is.

Now, there are plenty of things in the movie that went over my head that an audience full of Veronica Mars fans were geeking about and that clearly can’t be explained in a two minute summary of 64 episodes. Which will probably be a turn-off for some people and that’s understandable.

For others like me, mixed with the witty script, Kristen Bell’s performance, and some seriously action-packed and suspenseful parts of the film, it’ll be just be intriguing enough to start a new generation of Veronica Mars fans. That, and some seriously fantastic cameos from Dax Shepherd and James Franco. Which is something I never say about James Franco.

Veronica Mars, you may be the ending for some people, but I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship for us and many others who may not know you yet.

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If you’re looking for a review from a fan, fear not, Marshmallows! I recruited my friend and Veronica Mars super fan Tony Cashio to help me here.

Welcome back to Neptune, Marshmallows. It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly seven years since the show ended. It would be fair to say that no one was really holding their breath for a continuation of this “dead before its time” cult hit. Then, one day, seemingly out of the blue, series-creator-and-director Rob Thomas trotted our beloved stars out in front of us and said, “Let’s make a movie!” Thus began the third largest Kickstarter project to date, raising over five-and-a-half million dollars as fans made their dedication to the long-defunct television show clear.

It’s easy to see where our millions went. The camera work in the movie is stunning. The show opens an an absolutely gorgeous montage, with the all-too-familiar narration of Kristen Bell helping new fans understand what Veronica Mars is all about and and helping us all know just where all this time apart has put her. Very quickly we are all captivated by her quick wit, which has obviously not dulled over the years. The strong writing in this opening is something that pervades through the whole show.

The Mars gang has experienced time at a slightly accelerated rate from the rest of us, and we pick up nine years after the end of season three. In that time, Veronica Mars has moved on from Neptune. She’s left her detective days behind her and angled to become a big-shot lawyer. There doesn’t seem to be a lot to say about these nine years—Veronica stopped sleuthing and everyone else just sort of proceeded forward in a straight path.

The message here is clear: “Don’t worry, you didn’t miss any of the good stuff.” It’s almost as if the Veronica we know and love has been kept behind glass, with a bit of text at the bottom stating, “Break In Case of Mystery.”

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In no time at all, a mallet comes crashing into that glass case in the form of a murder scandal. And when one of her near-and-dear put those magic words, “I need your help,” in her ear, Veronica is back on the case. She leaves behind her job search and the hapless, re-boyfriended Piz. She promises herself, and Piz, she’ll only be peeking into this rabbit hole.

As luck would have it, this murder mystery has her arriving just in time for her high school’s ten-year reunion, as well. One could be forgiven for finding this sync a little too convenient—this is definitely just an excuse to trot out as many familiar faces as possible. And it’s certainly wonderful to see them, thinly veiled excuse or no. Much like a real reunion, though, it can feel like we aren’t quite enough time with any one character.

One of the show’s strengths was its large, vibrant cast of characters, and trying to cram them all into one movie is a bit of a feat. Still, fan-favorite characters such as Keith Mars and Dick Casablancas manage to shine brightly with the time that they’re given. One of the few new additions, Sheriff Dan Lamb (brother to former sheriff Don Lamb), however, falls rather rather flat and feels like a clumsy caricature of his brother.

And, seriously: Dan and Don?

Veronica spends much of the movie fighting her own instincts, comparing herself to a junkie. Some might argue that this is obnoxious, because it’s obvious that being a detective is in her true nature. However, I like to think that watching her fight helps us see just how deep these instincts run, particularly for people who are new to VM. There’s a scene where she is going through all of her old equipment that is absolute gold and a real joy to watch for fans of the series.

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The movie is littered with these sorts of scenes. If I had one fear going into this movie, it was that they’d be so busy pandering to fans of the show that it would have a hard time landing with a new audience. I’m happy to say that they struck a pretty solid balance, in my eyes. There’s no point in which the movie feels like it went completely off the rails just to chase after a “true fan’s” giggle.

Many of the references were fun for the whole audience, just more so to people who knew her background (watching her stare at the ringing phone in Mars Investigation was priceless). Some gave such subtle winks at us that they’d fly right past newbies as normal dialogue (watch out for the reference to VM’s failed 4th season pilot, true believers).

The plot itself has its ups and downs. Solid dialogue and strong actor rapport have miraculously remained in tact, despite the several-year gap, and it carries a lot of the movie. We’re given very little emotional tie to the murder itself, even though it puts one of our favorite characters in jeopardy. And we see perhaps one too many detective story tropes, giving the movie an air of predictability. Still, it’s a fun ride with a few surprises along the way.

Many will argue that this movie feels like an extra-long episode. While there’s definitely some truth to this, they also do a good job taking advantage of the medium. Expect to see bigger sets, more violence and cursing, and a general sense that the characters have been allowed to grow up (while still staying familiar). Still, it’s true that Rob Thomas may feel more comfortable writing truly compelling mysteries over an entire season arc.

VERONICA MARS

Fans have had faith in this movie from the moment it was announced. When I told my fellow fans I had seen the Veronica Mars movie, they didn’t ask me whether it was good or not. They all asked, instead, “How good was it?” This move had big shoes to fill, and I’m happy to report it’s done a great job at it.

Final Thoughts

Ashley:

For people who haven’t watched the series, the movie can be a bit confusing with a lot of throwbacks to the series along the way. However, Rob Thomas’ script and the cast performances (especially that of Kristen Bell) do a great job at making the story accessible and intriguing to newcomers. Congratulations, Marshmallows! You helped make a near-perfect jumping off point for new fans!

Tony:

Despite a few missteps here and there, Veronica Mars delivered a wholly enjoyable cinematic experience. Striking a perfect balance between nostalgia and broad appeal, this is a movie fans can drag all their non-fan friends to and not feel guilty at all.

Staff Ratings

Therese:

Veronica Mars holds a very special place in my heart. It was the first show I ever binge watched during a school semester. I stopped half way through season three because nothing was going the way I wanted, and then the show ended and I never got the satisfaction that I wanted from one of my favorite shows. But with the new movie, I literally have gotten almost everything that I ever wanted in the show, which was honestly just more LoVe. A+ to Rob Thomas for putting my money to good use.

★★

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