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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Veronica Mars review: fan service included

Veronica Mars yellow light

I’ve never seen the show that spawned it, but it was still exactly what I was expecting. I am neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed by it. I am whelmed.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not seen the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I haven’t seen a single episode of Veronica Mars, but I figured that if fans prepaying for movies on Kickstarter was the future of film — or one of the futures, at least — I’d better take a look at the Veronica Mars movie and see what all the fuss was about. And even never having seen the show that spawned it, it was still exactly what I was expecting. I am neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed by it. I am whelmed. This looks and feels like a double-length episode of a TV show, full of tangential references to past events and previous character interactions that were easy to spot even though all these faces and whatever they’d done in Season 2, Episode 4 were unknown to me. I say this not as a criticism, for this is precisely what the fans who paid in advance were looking for, and I’m happy for them (assuming that the new wisecracks and hugs and eyerolls were appropriate, of course). I say it cuz it’s just kind of hilarious. Like how, for instance, when some guy who Veronica knew from when she was a girl detective attending a small-town California high school a decade earlier makes an out-of-nowhere comment on how he thought she was in the FBI now, it doesn’t just sound random (especially because the movie opens with Veronica about to take the bar exam in New York and take a job with a high-powered Manhattan law firm). It sets off a sweet little ding-ding-ding of fan service… and, of course, it’s a reference to a previous attempt to reboot the show that all fans will be aware of. (The cameo by James Franco [Homefront] feels out of the blue, though, and it turns out he has no past connection to the show.) The story, which is completely beside the point, involves the death of a pop star whom Veronica (Kristen Bell: Frozen) went to high school with and who was dating her ex (Jason Dohring: Deep Impact); he’s accused of her murder and she flies home to help. Sex tapes are involved, and celebrity bashing, and though the sheriff (Jerry O’Connell: Obsessed) says that “America thinks he’s guilty,” this is a TV-scaled story that never gives us any perspective beyond that of Veronica’s circle of friends, enemies, and former high-school classmates — there’s even a 10-year reunion for her to cope with. I’m sure that’s perfectly fine with the fans, but there’s really not much of an in for anyone else.

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Veronica Mars (2014)
US/Can release: Mar 14 2014 (VOD same day)
UK/Ire release: Mar 14 2014 (VOD same day)

MPAA: rated PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language
BBFC: rated 12A (contains strong language, moderate violence, sex, sex references)

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Stephanie C.

    fwiw, the person who was in the scene with him (introing the viral video) was Steve Spengler, the fan who contributed $10k to the making of the movie through the Kickstarter. James Franco *matched* the $10k, and so they decided to put the two of them together; basically, Franco was in the movie because he was one of the $10,000 donators to the project, same as the other guy. He just also happens to be James Franco.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I’m sorry you didn’t like the movie more. It included enough of your favorite themes — and got a favorable enough write-up from critic John Kenneth Muir — that I thought you would like it more but apparently I was wrong.

    Aw, well. I’m not easy to please myself and in an age when the average evening movie ticket for a single adult costs almost ten bucks here in Dallas, I don’t blame you for being picky.

    After all, I’m kinda whelmed at the thought of paying almost ten bucks to see The Lego Movie so I’ll probably wait till it hits the dollar theatre before I go see it if I bother to see it at all. ;-)

    But seriously, folks…

    A film with a smart and funny female lead character is not exactly common, even if it is a big screen flick with a small screen budget.

    But then I’m obviously a fan of the original show so I’m biast…

  • Stephanie C.

    Actually, the Lego Movie really does benefit a lot from the big screen; I got a screener copy as well as seeing it in a theatre, and it really made a difference, which surprised me. Hit the dollar theatre if nothing else.

  • Well, I didn’t *hate* the film, either.

    I didn’t really see much in the way of themes in the film that spoke to me: what did you think would appeal to me? (A female protagonist isn’t a theme.)

  • What I read online seemed to indicate that Thomas wanted Franco for the film and approached him cold, and that Franco thought the scene was funny so agreed to do it even though he wasn’t familiar with the show. If he did donate money, that must have come later, and wasn’t the reason why he appears.

  • RogerBW

    It’s an interesting approach: traditionally the film spawned from a TV show tries to bring in new viewers as well as appealing to the fans (and often fail: I don’t know anyone who started watching the X-Files with the films, for example), but as far as I can see the only way this one distinguishes itself from a generic investigation film is if you already are a fan. Is that going to be enough to get the experiment repeated soon? Opening weekend of $2m against a budget of $6m says to me probably not. Sure, they don’t need to distribute profits to investors, but the headline figures are what potential imitators are going to be looking at.

  • Danielm80

    There are multiple themes:

    If you’re an underdog or a minority, people will expect you to fail. This is an opportunity. Instead of trying to conform, be exceptional.

    You can’t trust anyone. Trust anyway.

    The world is an awful place, and everyone will try to kick the shit out of you, but you can make it better.

    Cleverness and wit are good things. In fact, they’re essential.

  • I can’t say I saw any of those themes in the film.

  • LaSargenta

    So, unequivocally goes onto my ‘miss-able’ list. Thanks.

  • It really is only for fans of the show. Too bad for the rest of us.

  • Tonio Kruger

    What Danielm80 said. Also there are comments on classism and the stop and frisk laws but those can be seen as subsets of “the world is an awful place…” theme.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Plans for a sequel have already been announced, for what that’s worth.

  • RogerBW

    Fair enough. Will other people copy this procedure?

  • The biggest theme I saw in the film is “High school is awful, and some people act like they never left.”

  • Danielm80

    I think the lesson here is that there’s a cost-effective way to make a movie for a small, core audience. If people copy the procedure, they probably won’t be doing it for the money. That’s probably a good thing.

  • Danielm80

    That’s an important theme, too. If you remember it when you’re watching the news, the stories make more sense.

  • It was a really low-key movie. the mystery itself was minor: the movie itself focused on the characters and especially on Veronica coming to terms with the fact she was a mystery addict/thrill junkie. It tried to set up threads for future plots but in the end it was all about the fact that 10-year high school reunions is about as close to hell as high school itself…
    It was funny in parts, but it did rely a lot on knowing the show’s mythos.

  • it works best for tv shows/movies that are low-budget, low on sfx, with a dedicated core of actors who enjoy the parts and are willing to not ask for $40 million over a 3-picture deal…

  • the classism elements were part of the B-story, the uptick in police corruption with its stop-and-frisk, gun-planting habits. That was left as a sequel hook.

  • Franco just likes cameos.

  • Hmm. I guess. That was really hamhanded, though.

  • if Veronica Mars The Movie can make something of a profit, the good news is that X-Files III: The Quickening can get green-lit and sourcefunded.

  • netflix the series. then watch the movie.

  • LaSargenta

    Fuck no. I rarely get involved in series. It has to have something I actually get my interest piqued by (last one was Treme and that was also the first since the Eccleston Doctor, before that, I’d have to go to something in the 70’s) and I have to have a shit load of spare time where I literally have nothing else to do. All I know about this is that it is about high school. I’m long out of there, hated it when I was there and have NO clue as to how high school became this amazing touchstone for so much of mid-everything america.

    Someone gave me a starter set of the first ten Nancy Drew books. Read the first dozen pages of the first book…put it away. Never picked them back up. The descriptions of this show sound like that pablum.

  • The Nancy Drew comparison is apt. (I loved those books… when I was eight.)

  • Danielm80

    You might not like the series, but nothing about it is pablum. It’s actually really dark and complex (as well as funny and surprising). I’m surprised that some of the plot twists made it to network TV.

  • LaSargenta

    I have no like/dislike opinion of the series itself. I find most series to be not appealing to me as they take too much of my time that requires me to be stationary in front of a screen (a book can travel with me), especially ones with (and, yeah, this shows my prejudices) white, blonde actresses in the lead — as far as I’m concerned I’ve had them in the aggregate shoved down my throat for my whole life — and that have a plot w/ high school as the setting. Just having those 3 things (series, blonde, high school) means the bar my soul sets is astoundingly stratospheric.


  • Bluejay

    I don’t know. Did the first Nancy Drew book ever establish that Nancy had been a victim of date-rape, and has to deal with its aftermath?

    I’ve decided to check out this series and have seen 3 or 4 episodes so far. I think it’s pretty interesting, and, even this early, already goes into (among other things) themes of race and class with an honest, complicated perspective that’s definitely more than pablum.

  • LaSargenta

    I was given them at about the same age. I had already been reading Conan Doyle and I think this friend of my mother’s gleaned that I liked mysteries but she couldn’t think of anything better.

  • LaSargenta

    Well, that does sound like it might be better than the shit that prevented me from being interested in most tv when I was a kid. Glad to hear things have improved.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    The series isn’t available on Netflix, though it is on Amazon Instant Video, and is on the list for Amazon Prime customers to watch without renting/buying.

    But I’m with LaSargenta, and will go one further: I’ve just about had it with being told about all the TV I “have to” or even “should” watch. No, I don’t need to track down an obscure series from 2004 that only lasted 3 seasons on the WB. I don’t need to watch a single episode of Mad Men or The Walking Dead. I don’t need to even try to get past the second episode of Breaking Bad. I have managed to get caught up Game of Thrones, but even then mostly out of a sense of obligation than actual enjoyment of the series. And I never, ever, need to watch an episode of Avatar. >.<

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    left as a sequel hook

    Ugh, I hate that. People, unless you’re filming it concurrently, your sequel is not guaranteed. Deal with every issue your script brings up, and tell a complete story, for FSM’s sake.

    This was my biggest problem with Divergence, which I saw last night. About 2/3rds through, it became clear the movie wasn’t even going to talk about anyone’s underlying motivations for doing what they were doing. And to make matters worse, the movie kept killing its exposition characters before they could deliver their exposition.

  • Danielm80

    The storyline in Veronica Mars was a “sequel hook” mostly in the sense that the problems of class division and police corruption can’t be eliminated by solving one crime. There are dangling plot threads, and they do set up a sequel (which I look forward to seeing, if it comes out), but that doesn’t mean that the movie ends on a cliffhanger.

  • Oh, and you really really need to watch every episode of Cougarton Abbey!!!

  • Dr. Rocketscience


  • I know there’s no way you’d be able to keep up with Inspector Spacetime and its cheap knockoff Doctor Who at the same time and all…

  • LaSargenta
  • Will

    Really, you’ve had it up to here with recommendations for high-quality TV? How very sad.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    A cliffhanger isn’t the same thing as a sequel hook. Cliffhangers mean ending your movie at the climax of your plot. Sequel hooks are issues, themes, or plot points, left unresolved in the (mistaken) belief that either you can/will pick right back up in the sequel without having to set them up (you alwyas have to backtrack in your sequel), or that it will give audiences a compelling reason to come back for the sequel (cliffhangers are better at this, if more annoying).

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Life is short, my friend. And a lot of it really isn’t all that great.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    No shit… ;-)

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Well, “Community” is also on my nope list. I haven’t so much as chuckled at a sitcom in 10 years.

    And “Big Bang Theory” I actually find kind of offensive.

    And yet, somehow, I keep myself entertained with a few TV series I enjoy, a Nook full of books, the entire PS3 back-catalog I’m just delving into, and, y’know, movies.

  • Does the film reflect these things? Cuz I didn’t find it terribly dark or complex, or funny or surprising, either.

  • Looks like Disqus can’t handle animated GIFs. Stupid Disqus.

  • Danielm80

    I don’t know how to answer that. I thought the film was dark, complex, funny, and surprising, but I may have been reacting to the TV show and not just to the movie.

    I will say that the dialogue on the TV show was much funnier.

  • LaSargenta

    It’s working for me now. Maybe I’m standing in the right place? ;-)

  • Yup, I see it now. Musta been a temporary glitch.

  • Tonio Kruger

    So what kind of TV shows would you recommend? Seriously.

  • Tonio Kruger

    In truth, they were also part of the main story arc since they ultimately determine the biggest decision made by the title character concerning her future. I would say more but you know, spoilers…

  • Tonio Kruger

    Actually, compared to the social commentary in a critically praised flick like The Purge, it seemed a bit subtle. But that just goes to show that hamhandedness, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I’m not watching much TV right now.
    “Agents of SHIELD” is trying so hard, and it’s almost there.
    “Almost Human” still has some potential (unless it didn’t get picked up, which would surprise me, either).
    I really enjoy “Arrow”, even though I skip through the soap opera stuff.
    And “Archer” has this “It’s so wrong it’s right” thing going for it.
    That’s about it for shows I follow. Excepting things like “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” and “GoT” (though I can’t say I follow it; just that I’ve slogged through to catch up on it.)

  • Right there with ya, Doc. I allow myself one or two TV series at any given time,and that’s it. And I watch them on my time, and at my schedule(slooooowly).
    I’d rather be out in my garden. Or doing the other three things you mentioned.

  • I don’t think “sad” is the right word choice. In no way is missing out on any kind of TV show, no matter how (supposedly)good, sad. That’s a very telling statement on our modern society.
    Sad is people not spending enough time outdoors communing with nature, growing their own food, appreciating this amazing world we live in.
    Sad is seeing so many people that rarely, if ever, pick up a book. I work with several. That’s sad.
    Sad is people who watch so much TV that it’s all they can talk about. I feel sad FOR these people.
    Not watching Veronica Mars =/= sad.

  • To me, it was hamhanded in that it had no connection whatsoever to the main story. B-stories are a TV thing, not something that movies do.

  • lulu

    what are you talking about ? VM is not Nancy Drew..i don’t believe you watch this show to begin with..therefore your opinion is certainly moot..

  • Tonio Kruger

    She said in her review that she never watched the show. Please try responding to what she actually wrote, not what you think she wrote. Otherwise, your opinion will seem moot.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    If there’s one thing the internet has taught me, it’s that getting people to pay attention to details while they’re busily spouting out their righteous indignation that someone somewhere doesn’t like the thing they like is a fool’s errand.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    The TV series garnered an average of 2.5 million viewers during each of its 3 season run (putting it, incidentally, in the bottom 10 for each year). Most of those people would have to pay to an average ticket price ($8.35 according to boxofficemojo) for the movie to be successful. However, a lot of those people already paid 4 times that to help get the movie made, and thus got to see it without paying again. So far, only about 350,000 people have paid to see it in a theater. Now, the movie is also getting seen in VOD, but no one will say how much money that amounts to.

    My point in all of this: at a certain point, the opinions of people who have never seen the show are going to cease to be “moot” if you have any hope of seeing any more of these characters.

  • As I stated in the review — three times, in fact — I have never seen the show. But no, my opinion is not “moot.” My opinion is that of someone who has never seen the show, but who was presented with a movie based on it. I frequently review movies based on shows I haven’t seen and books I haven’t read. This way I can tell others in the same position whether they might enjoy the film nevertheless.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I prefer to think of it as being quixotic. :)

  • Jdeyemom

    The word is “biased”. Sheesh! You call yourself a writer/journalist? Learn to spell. Have an editor.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    *facepalm* Wow, two in the same day.

  • Oh noes! You mean I’ve been doing biasting wrong all along?

  • David

    I am a huge Veronica Mars fan. This was in fact one of the movies I was most looking forward to this summer. I get what you’re saying about it maybe not working if you’re not familiar with the show but for me, this delivered.

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