You have to wonder about the appeal of Veronica Mars, the young detective star of the neo-noir television-show-turned-movie Veronica Mars. Though whip-smart, she doesn’t quite match the freaky genius of Sherlock Holmes. She’s a crackly shell of snarky cynicism, not an All-American icon like Nancy Drew. And though introspective and intuitive like G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, she lacks the clergyman’s humility and wisdom, instead making many bad choices and frequently using ethically ambiguous methods to crack a case. So what is it about Veronica Mars that keeps fans magnetized?
Perhaps it’s for the same reason Veronica (Kristen Bell) cannot stay away from the “iniquitous hell-hole” she calls her hometown Neptune, a fictional town in California. She’s attracted to Neptune the way a lusty pubescent is to a forbidden magazine, addicted to the adrenaline rush of danger and grit because, as she remarks wryly in the movie, “you ever hear about the junkie who was satisfied after one more taste of the good stuff?”
That’s the continuous theme in big-screen Veronica Mars: As someone who worked very hard to escape her past, will Veronica give up everything she earned—a steady boyfriend, a lucrative lawyer career, a fresh start—to fight the endless battle of justice for a town that continuously mistreats her and her father?
Other than that overarching plotline, Veronica Mars (rated PG-13) is no different from its television series; rather, it feels like a regular episode extended into 107 minutes with a sprinkle more expletives. Veronica still narrates her thoughts in sometimes-extraneous voiceovers; the cinematography stays straightforward and unglamorized; the plot recycles its usual themes of cop/city corruption, gentrification, class warfare, and moral debauchery.
What’s most noteworthy about Veronica Mars is the process and delivery in making it to a feature-length film. It made a limited release in about 260 AMC-owned theaters and 10 independent screens on March 14, the same day the movie became available for rent or purchase online through DVD and on-demand streaming. It’s unprecedented for a major movie studio to release simultaneously a relatively big-profile movie both in theaters and at home, and studios will be calculating the economic benefits (or downsides) of such a move.
Veronica Mars, a small-time show that got canceled mid-plot after its third season by the CW Network for low ratings, also made big-time news as an original business experiment in fundraising. When show creator Rob Thomas and lead star Kristen Bell pitched a movie version to the network’s co-parent company Warner Bros., they had a hard time convincing Warner to produce the show. The parties reached a compromise: If Veronica Mars could garner $2 million on Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding service, then Warner would be on board. Within a month’s launch, more than 91,000 people donated money, ricocheting the goal point up over $5.7 million. The project reached its then-ambitious primary goal in just 11 hours, making it the fastest project to reach $2 million, and remains the all-time highest-funded film project in Kickstarter history. Warner needed no further convincing—clearly, fans were hungry for Veronica Mars’ return.
There’s a catch, of course. The fans paid for the movie, so they now essentially own the movie. For better or worse, Veronica Mars reflects that consciousness and panders to its long-time fans by bringing closure to loose plots and revisiting certain key relationships. As promised, the movie fast-forwards to the 10-year reunion of Veronica’s Neptune High graduating class, but it’s really a reunion of many old characters and their actors, thankfully aged out of flare jeans and puka shell necklaces. The core gang all make a comeback: morally ambiguous ex-motorcycle gang leader Weevil (Francis Capra), loyal best friend Wallace (Percy Dagg III), eccentric computer whiz Mac (Tina Majorino), surfer pothead Dick (Ryan Hansen), sweet boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell), and of course former lover/bad boy Logan (Jason Dohring) and darling private investigator single-father Keith (Enrico Colantoni).
If you don’t know who these characters are, Veronica Mars was not made for you. It doesn’t mean you won’t comprehend the plot; it just means you’ll miss a lot of Easter egg references and artifacts, which is really what the whole movie is about. The customers got pretty much what they paid for in Veronica Mars.