The first season of Veronica Mars is one of the items in the time capsule I’m building so that future civilizations might know us as the best versions of ourselves. I treasure that show. I love that show. I even love the less-good second and third seasons. But when news came that creator Rob Thomas was Kickstarter-ing a reunion movie, I was not thrilled. It’s bad enough to endure a beloved show’s cancellation, but the years and years of “will there be a movie?” chitchat just rubbed it in — and now that a movie actually was happening, it was like a reward for that annoying fan behavior. Plus, there was the danger that it wouldn’t be good. Creator Rob Thomas had done a revival before, after all: His 1998 series Cupid came back in 2009, and while the second version had its charms, it just wasn’t the same. So it was with enormous trepidation that I watched the Veronica Mars movie. Please don’t be bad, please don’t be bad, I begged the entertainment gods, who have generally not smiled on TV shows that become movies. Somehow, miraculously, the Veronica Mars movie is definitely not bad. It’s pretty damn good, actually.
Though only if you’re a Veronica Mars fan already. I can’t imagine anyone who wasn’t interested in the show being interested in the movie, but just in case: The show was about high school student Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) and the seedy California town of Neptune, where she grew up. Half the town was richy-rich movie stars and tech scions, and the other half was not; Veronica fell from her place atop the social totem pole when her best friend was murdered, and Veronica’s father (Enrico Colantoni), then the town’s sheriff, seemingly botched the investigation. He then became a private investigator, and Veronica his faithful assistant and a talented investigator herself. When we meet her again in the movie, she’s graduating from law school in New York and is poised to accept a job at a tony firm. She and her college boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell) have stayed together, but then she gets a call from Logan (Jason Dohring), her volatile high school boyfriend and true love, and suddenly she’s back on a plane to Neptune. A long time ago, we used to be friends …
Logan has, as usual, been accused of a murder he did not commit, this time the death of his girlfriend, pop star Bonnie De Ville — the stage name of one of Logan and Veronica’s classmates, the former Carrie Bishop. On the TV show, Carrie Bishop was played, memorably, by Leighton Meester; here, it’s someone else, which feels off, even though we only see Carrie in flashbacks and photos. Carrie’s just one of many Neptune residents to make a return appearance in the movie: Just about every memorable character from the show pops up at some point, including Dick Casablacas (Ryan Hansen), Deputy Leo (Max Greenfield), Vinnie Van Lowe (Ken Marino), and even Celeste Kane (Lisa Thornhill). Mac (Tina Majorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III) of course wind up dragging Veronica to her ten-year reunion, where the only notable absence is Duncan (Teddy Dunn), though no one seems to miss him. I certainly didn’t.
Veronica Mars: The Movie plays like a long episode of Veronica Mars: The TV Show, with all the relationships and in-jokes intact. There are movie references galore, a subtle nod to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Piz admits that Neptune really does seem to be built on “a Hellmouth”), and all the sarcasm you can squeeze into 100 minutes. Logan gets plenty of screen time. There’s an impressively tense action sequence, and of course Veronica has to use her brilliant quick wit and trusty taser to escape the clutches of a murderer.
And to temper some of the rah-rah good feelings of seeing the whole gang again, the movie includes a reminder, as there were in many episodes of the show, that it’s not just the evil villains who dislike Veronica; she can be pretty nasty sometimes, even to people who look up to her. She can close herself off from things very effectively, which is a self-preservation mechanism that sometimes has the unintended consequence of keeping the good stuff out, too. Here in the movie, Veronica apparently didn’t know her onetime good friend Weevil (Francis Capra) was married and had a 3-year-old. Perhaps there is no Facebook in her world.
The mechanics of the movie’s central murder mystery work just fine, and all the performances are as good as they were on the show. (And Krysten Ritter, who was not very compelling back in 2005 when she originated Gia, has become a much, much better actress in the ensuing years.) But there’s nothing all that grand or special about the movie — fun, yes; amusing, yes; comforting in that it feels like seeing an old friend, absolutely. When Veronica Mars premiered on television, it stunned me with how frankly it approached sexual assault, how confident its stylized noir dialogue seemed, how ambitious its well-woven season-long mysteries were. The show really did, and continues to, amaze me. The movie less so.