Veronica Mars was a teen sleuth whose superpower was storytelling. She was adroit at making up clever lies and crafting fake identities, but it was always in the service of piecing together the truth — which was another story she constructed. Now she's starring in a big crowd-funded movie, which turns out to be about how we keep stories alive long after they seem gone and forgotten.
Very minor spoilers ahead...
Most sequels to dead franchises have a certain amount of self-awareness that the protagonist ought to have moved on, that he or she might be too old for this, but something is making our hero come back one more time. Usually, that something is the studio, seeing a last bit of profit to be wrung out of an IP. This time, though, Veronica is recalled to action purely because the fans opened their wallets.
So it's fitting that the Veronica Mars movie really is about the seductiveness of Veronica's world, and the thrill of piecing together a hidden story that they don't want you to discover.
The fans relapse right along with Veronica
Anybody who's seen the trailers will know that Veronica has moved on with her life — she's
been promoted to Admiral gotten a fancy career as a high-powered New York attorney. But just when she thought she was out, they pull her back in, because Logan Echols is accused of murdering his pop-star ex-girlfriend.
Veronica jets back to Neptune, the most corrupt town in California, and starts investigating despite her best intentions. As we see Veronica get seduced by the thrill of digging up dirt, the film simultaneously does its best to seduce us back into the world of Mars, keeping the fan-favorite characters, clever jokes, and gut-punching darkness coming in a steady stream.
Veronica gets pulled back into her old dual role as trickster and truth-teller, while everyone who loved the show gets pulled back into adoring all of the complex backstory and the web of personalities that we obsessed over when the show was on the air. In both cases, it's all about not being able to let go of a good story.
I'm not sure how well this movie will work for someone who wasn't a huge fan of the TV series. For fans, this movie will land squarely in your happy place and fill it to bursting with happy juice. For fans, this movie is near-perfect. For non-fans, it's probably a pretty good movie, somewhat marred by self-indulgence. The fans paid for this film, so they get the maximum fan-service.
But even if you never saw the TV show, it's worth checking out this film — because the core political themes of Veronica Mars are more relevant than ever before. And they have a lot to do with what's drawing Veronica back into the old story that she thought she'd let go of.
Neptune is the dystopia we deserve
These days, we have an embarrassment of dystopias on the big screen. Often, they're a smidge stylized and contrived — it's ancient Rome, only in the future! — but most of the time, they're commenting on the world we live in now. The dystopia of Veronica Mars is much closer to the world we live in, but it's still stylized in its own noir fashion.
Veronica Mars was always about a town without a middle class — Neptune is a place of extreme wealth and poverty, in which you're either living in the fancy houses or cleaning them. The extreme wealth divide leads to corruption and injustice, as the cops are purely at the service of the rich.
Probably the best part of the new Mars movie is how terrible it makes Neptune look — the town has gotten worse since Veronica left, and a lot of the most brutal parts of the film involve Veronica realizing how depressed and hopeless her father has become. Enrico Colantoni's understated, sombre performance gives the film its center of gravity.
As the opening monologue of the movie says, when America's future class war starts, it will begin in Neptune. In a way, this is a clearer vision of our dark future than any dark fantasy about jumpsuits.
This vision of a radically unequal society was bracing ten years ago — but now it feels way more prescient and timely, in an era when fewer and fewer people feel as though they have any hope of getting ahead.
Veronica's fans love her because she's an underdog, and because she chips away at the lies and self-deceptions that underpin this horrible system. The town of Neptune is populated with dirty liars, but also with vain and stupid people who have invented personal mythologies that make them look good. And then there's the huge helping of celebrity culture and the fame-whoring that goes with it. Most dystopias are about Propaganda with a capital-P, but Veronica Mars atomizes propaganda down to the level of individual, personal untruths, which collectively build the big lie.
Fame-whoring is uglier than ever
Plus all of the obsessions with fame, secrets and overexposure that ran through the original series get a new lease on life and a new relevance in the era of ubiquitous sex tapes and sexting and tiny webcams. This movie has a whole new bag of tricks, thanks to how much technology has changed since the show went off the air seven years ago.
This time around, the hits on fame-whoring and celebrity culture include some pretty sharp commentary on fandom — and the line between fans and stalkers. An obsessive fan of the murdered pop singer comes to personify the dark side of the very same impulse that gave this movie its life.
That same kind of obsessiveness drives Veronica, too — and she keeps using an addiction metaphor to describe her need to dumpster-dive in the worst parts of Neptune. She knows she ought to walk away and go back to her perfect life in New York, but she can't, because she's relapsing.
And Veronica Mars is an addictive movie, because it captures so well why we always crave just one more big reveal, one more twist. Veronica's unhealthy addiction is our own. I'm already dying to watch this movie three or four more times.