Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Veronica Mars Comes Full Circle With The Film Continuation Of The Series!

The Good: Funny, Wonderful character development, Good acting, Engaging story/references
The Bad: Some underdeveloped threads, Much of the case hinges on a retcon that is unsatisfying.
The Basics: Surprisingly satisfying on its own, Veronica Mars progresses the story of the title character and Neptune, California in a compelling way.

From the moment it was first announced, there have been few films I have eagerly anticipated the way I have looked forward to Veronica Mars. In fact, the only reason it has taken me two weeks to watch and review the cinematic rendition of Veronica Mars is that I was going through the entire television series (reviewed here!) with my wife (who had not seen it before) (and in Michigan, it didn’t remain in theaters very long). Given the terrible and abrupt nature of the show’s series finale to Veronica Mars, the show made for a natural subject for a cinematic follow-up. Like Serenity (reviewed here!), Veronica Mars is based on a television series that had an uncommon level of complexity and a number of characters that could not be properly serviced in a single 107 minute film.

Fortunately for fans of Veronica Mars who might have been wary of a film based upon the fourth season presentation presented in the bonus features to the Season Three DVD set, the film Veronica Mars is a return to form . . . and Neptune, California. In fact, the film Veronica Mars makes a conscious choice to disavow the Season 4 Presentation as part of the Veronica Mars canon. Early in the film, Veronica details her nine years since she was last seen and it is a very different path – Stanford, then Harvard Law – than the FBI Academy. My big fear before watching Veronica Mars was that, with so many characters to service, they would gloss over most or try so hard to give everyone a fair amount of screentime that they would not tell a coherent narrative. Veronica Mars is a surprisingly balanced film, with only one of the primary characters from the series being given a truly underwhelming place in the film. Regardless, it did not feel like a film that was just a random collections of allusions to the television series or cameos by beloved characters from the series.

Living in New York City now, and having recently reconnected with Piz, Veronica Mars has gone nine years without taking a case. Instead, she is now interviewing at a prestigious New York law firm where she illustrates her resolve and lack of ability to be flustered when one of the partners brings up her sex tape from college while in the interview. Having pointedly ignored the pleas from Wallace and Mac to return to Neptune for their ten year high school reunion, Veronica Mars feels a tug to return to her hometown when a pop star she went to high school with is killed. The primary suspect is Veronica’s former boyfriend, Logan Echolls. Feeling like an addict, Veronica takes a call for help from Logan and leaves Piz in New York to help Logan find a good lawyer to represent him.

Arriving in Neptune, Veronica finds herself returning to many of her old ways. Logan is, despite the murder charges against him, a stand-up guy who has joined the military and flies missions over Afghanistan (and he looks damn good in his uniform when he meets Veronica at the airport). Wallace is now a teacher at Neptune High, Mac has taken a job for Kane Software and Dick is still Dick, spending his days surfing and screwing. Underwhelmed by the lawyers she meets, Veronica starts to help Logan develop his defense, which is finding a more compelling suspect than Logan. Investigating the murder itself, Veronica encounters the pop star’s number one fan (and another former-classmate of Veronica’s), Gia Goodman, and others from her past, including Madison Sinclair and Weevil. Digging into the relationships of those she left behind in Neptune brings to light a missing person’s murder from ten years ago and puts Veronica in the crosshairs of a killer looking to protect their interests and secrets.

Keith Mars is, fortunately, not neglected in Veronica Mars. He is given a subplot, with Weevil, that puts him at odds with the new Sheriff Lamb (Dan Lamb, Don Lamb’s brother). Sheriff Lamb is not only incompetent, he is outwardly corrupt and Neptune, California is a much darker place than it used to be. Gone is the bright veneer that covered the seedy underbelly of the filthy rich city and Keith Mars’s plotline in Veronica Mars reflects that.

First and foremost, Veronica Mars is a darker, more adult continuation of the characterlines from the television series. The big moments of Veronica Mars (the film) are violent and abrupt. This is a film with a body count, wounds, and some particularly gruesome and tense moments. But, it’s still Veronica Mars. As such, the film is packed with witty banter, tongue-in-cheek humor, and lovable moments that remind viewers just why they loved the television show upon which the movie was based. Most of the relationship moments satisfy as well. Wallace has grown, but still has loyalty to Veronica, Mac is dismayed with herself for having gone over to the Dark Side for cash, and Dick is as vacuous as ever (in fact, despite him being a reasonable suspect in the film’s backstory murder, during the inevitable exposition wrap-up of the backstory, the guilty party goes to sufficient lengths to exonerate Dick for any involvement). Piz is still rather white bread, Gia is still pretty shallow, and Logan and Veronica instantly have more chemistry than Veronica and Piz, so most of the pieces in play are familiar.

As one might suspect, the film Veronica Mars is largely about Veronica. The story is one that gives her a decent character arc. She was out of the private investigation business and, more than any of the influences exerted upon her by other characters, Veronica Mars is about her willing return to the lifestyle she has run away from. Thematically, Veronica Mars is largely about one young woman discovering her passion in life and realizing that the things and people once important to her were not necessarily self-destructive as they might have seemed.

In fact, the biggest gripes I had with Veronica Mars was how it fit in with the larger series, as opposed to anything within the film itself. That means that while those who might watch Veronica Mars will not appreciate the full depth and range of the allusions in the film, those who are attentive to details will find some aspects of Veronica Mars unsatisfying. I was less than enthused by the resolution of the Weevil character arc in the film, after initially being impressed by his character growth. But there are other details that the film inexplicably flubs. Chief among them is in the corrupt sheriff plotline. The television series “resolved” itself with an election between Keith Mars and Vinnie Van Lowe for sheriff of Neptune. The presumption, given the plot that preceded it, was that Keith would lose the election because of corruption charges that surfaced the night before the election. The problem, though, is that we see Veronica’s ballot: Keith and Vinnie are the only two people on the ballot. One of them must have been elected – Dan Lamb could not have become sheriff after that election. As a result, Vinnie’s place in the film (without any acknowledgment of his disastrous tenure as sheriff) makes painfully little sense.

As well, the murder plot in Veronica Mars hinges on an unsolved case . . . that was never once mentioned in the television series. Sometime between the second and third season of Veronica Mars, presumably, there was a boat trip that resulted in a death. It’s never mentioned before and the retcon case is an unfortunate contrivance for the film. In addition to forcing fans to believe in yet another young person killed at Veronica’s high school (so soon after Veronica’s tenacious pursuit of the bus crash victims) was part of a case that neither Veronica, nor Keith, pursued, the resulting case hinges largely on characters that the viewer is not invested in. Gia Goodman was only present in the show’s second season and was not particularly missed in the third; Logan is never treated as a viable killer in Veronica Mars, and Dick Casablancas continues to be such a hapless dupe that he is never believably a suspect. Thus, all the suspects are reliably among the newcomers to the film, which leaves the viewer without a real emotional tether to the crimes past and present.

That said, Veronica Mars has wonderful acting. Kristen Bell, Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring, Ryan Hansen and Chris Lowell each fall perfectly back into their old, familiar roles. Percy Daggs III, Francis Capra, and Tina Majorino evolve their characters credibly to make their new personalities seem less abrupt and more plausible. Jerry O’Connell, Gaby Hoffmann, and Martin Starr blend well with the seasoned cast. Martin Starr is like he has never been before; he is downright creepy, with a dangerous quality to him that he’s not portrayed before. Starr gives one of the notable performances in Veronica Mars, even if some of his character’s arc is telegraphed by his performance.

Ultimately, Veronica Mars is well worth watching. It’s enough to please fans and get a whole new audience to pick up the television series. For a film that had such a public battle to get made at all, that is truly a mission accomplished!

For other works with Krysten Ritter, be sure to visit my reviews of:
She’s Out Of My League
Confessions Of A Shopaholic
27 Dresses
Gilmore Girls - Season 7
Veronica Mars - Season 2
Someone Like You


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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