After seven years of nothing, Marshmallows have reason to celebrate. 2014 has ushered us into a new era of Veronica Mars, thanks mostly to the highly publicized and immensely successful Kickstarter campaign that made the long desired sequel movie a reality. We now live in a year when Veronica and her cohorts are back in action both on the big screen and in print, and there’s even a pseudo-spinoff in the works at CW. All of it comes back to this little movie that could, which released in theaters in March and arrived on Blu-ray and DVD this week.
In the pantheon of cult TV heroes, there’s a special place for Rob Thomas’s intrepid sleuth, Veronica Mars. During the series’ original 2004-2007 run, Veronica became a modern day Nancy Drew, managing to harness her sass, keen intelligence, and a unique brand of street smarts to bring justice to the miscreants of her fictional hometown of Neptune, California. Critics, other creators, and a devoted fanbase praised the show, but its ratings fell too low for the network to maintain the series. The CW cancelled Veronica Mars after the third season, leaving a number of plotlines in the lurch.
Series creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell talked for years about wanting to bring the characters and story back in one form or another, but the opportunity to get the funding and to push forward with production didn’t present itself until the recent rise of crowdfunding via the Internet. Thomas posted a campaign to fund the Veronica Mars movie in 2013, and it would become the largest successfully funded film project the site had seen. The campaign set a goal of $2 million and ended up blowing past that mark to conclude with more than $5.7 million donated by more than 90,000 sponsors. The movie immediately launched into production, and it released one year after the conclusion of its Kickstarter.
With such a big spotlight on the Veronica Mars movie’s production and such high hopes from the series’ cult following, it’s easy to imagine the final product falling short. Thankfully, nothing could be farther from the truth. The movie opens nine years after the conclusion of season three, with Veronica having escaped Neptune to build her career as a lawyer in New York. Somehow Piz (Chris Lowell) is still in the picture after all those years, but Veronica’s flame for her bad-boy ex Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) still burns as brightly as ever. Logan joined the Navy in the great dark age between the TV show and movie, and he manages to land himself in just enough trouble to draw Veronica back to her old stomping grounds to help him.
The movie opens with a great big “previously on Veronica Mars” infodump that probably is unnecessary. The folks watching the new film likely already are longtime fans of the series, and anyone new to Veronica won’t be sufficiently caught up on all the intricacies, politics, murders, and betrayals after a few moments of narration. Kristen Bell’s opening voiceover does slip in a quick shout out to the fandom, and the beginning of the movie itself is heavily loaded with fan service. Truthfully, fan service peppers the whole production, from a parade of nearly every surviving character from the TV show to frequent drop-ins from celebs ranging from Jamie Lee Curtis to James Franco. It’s virtually impossible to deliver straight to the fans in that blatant way without running the risk of cheesiness, and admittedly there are a few cringey moments in the first half.
Thankfully the fan service tapers off once the plot ramps up, and the remainder of the film feels like a fantastic and extended lost episode of the TV series. Perhaps more accurately it feels like a condensed lost season, because the movie delivers a tight, dark, and complete murder mystery in less than two hours similar to what the TV show delivered over the course of 22 episodes. The case brings Veronica back to work with her dad, resident PI Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) while teaming up with old favorites like Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino). Jeffrey O’Connell joins the cast as the new sheriff of Neptune, even more incompetent and corrupt than his predecessors, and other familiar faces like Krysten Ritter and Ryan Hansen play big parts in Veronica’s latest adventure.
The mystery at the core of the movie is as twisty as anything the TV show ever served up, and it presents Neptune in a darker and bleaker light than we’re used to seeing. Times haven’t been kind to the town in Veronica’s absence. As the case progresses, it becomes clear that its outcome will have actual repercussions within the canon of Veronica Mars. This isn’t just a throwaway yarn to serve as a reason to bring the gang back together. This is a story with a purpose, and it places beloved characters in real jeopardy, some of whom just might not make it through unscathed. Changing the status quo and doing dastardly things to fan favorite characters would be odd in a one-off reunion, but it’s clear that Rob Thomas is building something new in this movie. He’s already followed the film up with a canonically official novel that continues the story, and there’s every indication that we’ll be getting more stories from Neptune in the near future.
The Blu-ray release of the movie comes with an assortment of bonus features that includes the expected deleted scenes and gag reel content. Surprisingly there’s not an audio commentary, but there is an hour-long documentary about the making of the movie. It follows the production from the launch of the Kickstarter campaign through the final release and is a fun watch for fans, as well as for anyone interested in a behind the scenes look at this new film production paradigm. Finally, there’s a set of six brief featurettes that include interviews with the cast and looks at the film and its universe.
The Veronica Mars movie does everything the fans could have hoped. It reunites characters in familiar settings, fills in some of the gaps, and leaves us with a new status quo to be addressed in future outings. For a movie that very nearly didn’t get made, Veronica Mars stands as a testament to the devotion of its fandom.