Veronica Mars has a lot of work to do. For the cult following of the TV series that spawned it, it needs to be a reunion, and for the potential fans who never saw that series, it needs to be an introduction. The series’ third season attempted a similar balancing act, eschewing the first two seasons’ year-long, serialized story arcs in favor of standalone episodes that wouldn’t put off new viewers unfamiliar with the backstory. It didn’t work: the existing fans were disappointed, the new fans didn’t materialize, and the show was unceremoniously canceled. But its fan base grew in its absence, and a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign was compelling enough for Warner Bros. to green-light a movie. So, in revisiting the balancing act that sealed its fate the first time around, what would Veronica Mars do differently on the big screen? As it turns out, not much.
The film opens with a quick recap of the TV series, skillfully avoiding major spoilers: Veronica was a teenage hardboiled detective who learned the ropes from her dad, a private eye. She grew disenchanted with her hometown of Neptune when her best friend was murdered and the fallout amplified the town’s ugly class divide. Now, many years later and thousands of miles away, she has just finished law school and been offered a job at a prestigious New York firm when her old flame, Logan Echolls, reappears and needs her help to beat a murder rap. Conveniently, his legal troubles coincide with the pair’s ten-year high school reunion. “Just when I thought I was out…”
Veronica Mars’s visual style has grown up with its characters, and is markedly more subdued than its prismatic precursor, but all else remains mostly the same. Upon her return to Neptune, the mystery at hand is designed to allow Veronica to fall back into her familiar beats with friends and foes. The fan service is transparent but not obnoxious. It’s clear that some time has passed since the actors inhabited these characters, leading some scenes to feel over-rehearsed, but it’s undoubtedly fun to see everyone back together again, especially Veronica (Kristen Bell) and her father (Enrico Colantoni), whose chemistry anchored the appeal of the original series.
However, that series was at its best when its central mystery was protracted. Allowing time for actual character development over the course of many episodes gave the whodunit’s moment of truth real impact. But the movie, tasked as it is with reuniting a lot of established characters – most of whom are not suspects in the murder investigation – doesn’t really give the audience a chance to get to know anyone new. The shallow procedural that results is underwhelming.
In this way, Veronica Mars is not unlike most reunions. It fondly and enjoyably revisits what was, but doesn’t quite succeed in recreating what made us want to revisit it in the first place.