It’s difficult to watch the Veronica Mars movie without comparing it to the eponymous television series. The show ran three tightly written, highly rated seasons, following the life of teen super sleuth protagonist Veronica Mars, before its cancellation in 2007. The movie’s writers blatantly play to the existent fanbase, adding in plenty of Easter eggs to remind the audience that this franchise resurrection is thanks to “viewers like you.”
After hitting a few succinct bullet points about the show and her character during the opening montage, for instance, Veronica (Kristen Bell) refers to herself as a “marshmallow”-a cute, deprecating way to say she’s gone soft after giving up her private investigating ways, but also the moniker used by diehard fans of the show. Also within the first 10 minutes, she walks down New York City streets and passes a busker performing an acoustic version of the show’s theme song. What’s more, the character of Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell), who was Veronica’s active love interest at the show’s end, is introduced by a shot of him recording a This American Life piece and referencing the use of a Kickstarter campaign-a subtle nod to the movie’s own $5 million, crowd-funded backing. It’s hard to tell whether producer Rob Thomas and the movie’s writers even wanted to appeal to an audience that had not seen the show-or, if they did, whether there’s any chance they succeeded.
Everyone, really, is an old something: characters from the show’s various storylines pop in to make cameos and then pop out again. It’s a fun game of “where are they now?,” made even more explicit when Veronica and her old pals Mac and Wallace (the delightful Tina Majorino and Percy Daggs III, respectively, each given too little screen time) drop in on their 10-year Neptune High reunion. Some throwbacks are more welcome-the snippy, clever dialogue that characterized the show shine through in Veronica’s interactions with her father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), but are counterbalanced by his understandable exasperation over her slide into old habits.
These habits rise to the surface as the movie quickly settles into a familiarly scandalous plot: ex-flame and perpetually troubled rich kid Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) has been accused of murdering his pop star girlfriend (also a former Neptune High student, surprise!) and, after nine years without contact-but presumably, nine years of her reprogramming his name and number into a succession of cell phones-it’s Veronica he calls upon for help. On the cusp of landing a high-powered job at a legal firm in New York and ostensibly wary of returning to Neptune, her economically stratified and morally shady California hometown, Veronica nevertheless hops on a plane to see what she can see. There to meet her at the airport is none other than Logan, looking freshly scrubbed and respectable in his Air Force whites.
Oh no, thinks the astute viewer, here comes the love triangle.
One of the strong points of Veronica Mars, though (both the show and the character,) has always been a brisk and businesslike demeanor used to address difficult topics like death, betrayal, rape, social injustices-and, yes, romance-while avoiding maudlin emotionalism. Indeed, despite the constant blasts to the past, Veronica Mars the movie is fast-paced and makes some smart filming choices that keep the action moving along. Scenes are exceptionally brief, rarely lasting more than a few minutes-likewise, deeply shadowed shots and a few unexpectedly violent plot turns support its mature feel.
Moreover, some of the most successful moments come when the movie focuses in on the trappings of Neptune rather than Veronica’s relationships or even the murder case. Gentrification and the corruption of a police department increasingly used to a cushy lifestyle stand out as unsolved problems that could stand to be more thoroughly explored. The movie ends with a distinct feeling of unfinished business, and this may be Thomas’ intent: rather than a standalone story, the movie plays like exactly what it is-a return, and a new beginning.
Central to Veronica Mars is the tension between roots and future: Veronica’s voiceover narrations frame this question in less and less subtle terms throughout the movie, using the motif of addiction to explain the hold that Neptune, the spying business, and a certain movie star’s son have on her. Is it ever really possible, she wonders, to escape the past and move forward, building something new? Or is it better to just go back to what worked, a long time ago?