‘Veronica Mars’ is back, and it’s like she never left (Movie review)

“Veronica Mars” is back in movie form this week on DVD in a wonderful relaunch of the franchise (the first of a new line of novels is also available) where everyone effortlessly slips back into their old roles yet time has clearly passed. The film is set during the gang’s 10-year anniversary from Neptune High, thus making it 2016, and we see that Neptune’s corruption has increased at a steady rate that mirrors what has happened in the real world.

When Keith Mars pulls out a small video camera to record an example of Balboa County deputies’ overreach and brutality (then uploads it to the cloud when the officer threatens to smash the camera), it’s a good example of the value of cameras in protecting ourselves from corrupt cops. It also makes me sad that this is the era we live in. But “Veronica” was always a show that cynically reflected the times we live in and the way people interact, then softened the blow (or made it more painful) due the hearts-of-gold characters who were caught up in it, from Piz to Wallace to Mac, and even the deep-down-decent Logan.

Inevitably, there’s a “where are they now” feel to this movie, as it’s been seven years of real time since the show went off the air. We’re not thrown back into the action as briskly as with this week’s action-packed “24” relaunch, but that’s OK: While “Veronica” rarely wasted a moment of screentime, it certainly breathed a lot more than “24.” Writers Rob Thomas (who also directs, and who of course created “Veronica Mars”) and Diane Ruggiero pepper these reunions throughout the film, while also giving nerdy nods to fans. For example, Deputy Leo (Max Greenfield, now known as Schmidt on “New Girl”) says he had heard that Veronica had joined the FBI. That’s a reference to Thomas’ Season 4 pitch that jumped ahead a few years to follow Veronica as a rookie FBI agent. The pitch was rejected by The CW but can be seen on the Season 3 DVD. (By the way, I love the way that reunion is played, with Leo pretending he doesn’t remember Veronica.)

In actuality, the intervening 10 years were – as the Neptune High principal grudgingly admits to Veronica – “boring.” And it’s hinted that they were a bit boring for Miss Mars, too, as if Thomas and Ruggerio are assuring us that we didn’t miss anything. She studied law at Stanford and is now in New York lining up her first job at a firm, while still dating Piz, a successful radio DJ. Piz and Logan had been caught in a “Jordan or Brian” loop among speculative “Veronica Mars” fans for the past seven years: Veronica was dating Piz in the finale, but that episode made it clear that her ultimate future was with Logan, and it seemed as if Piz was more aware of this than anyone. Still, as “Buffy” once put it, love causes people to do the wacky, so I guess it’s only natural that he’d stick with her for 10 more years. I think Thomas and Ruggerio do a fine job of settling the Logan vs. Piz debate in the movie, although I do feel bad for Piz for being strung along so long.

With other characters – such as Wallace, now a teacher and JV basketball coach at Neptune, and Mac, now working a soulless corporate tech job — we just have to accept that a two-hour movie is only going to allow time for glorified cameos. But at least these people are firmly a part of Veronica’s life … for better or worse: I like how Dick’s reintroduction consists of him letting out a loud belch.

The plot is very much what we’ve come to expect from “Veronica” – tech-heavy and smartly written. This film is one of the best tech-heavy noir mysteries of modern times, proving that technology hasn’t killed the genre, it has just forced writers to be clever. Almost all the clues in the solving of “Who killed Logan’s girlfriend?” are tech-oriented, including computer tablets that record the actions of the oblivious user. Yet it still comes down to an old-fashioned sequence of our heroine being stalked in a dark old industrial-style loft apartment.

And the movie’s theme is something to chew over: Should a person escape a corrupt town like Neptune and strike out on their own, or stay and try to clean it up? It’s a powerful dilemma in this franchise because Veronica and Keith are clearly so much better than Neptune. The only quibble I have is that Veronica should’ve learned something in her intervening years in the Bay Area and the Big Apple: Good people can always find good that needs doing, wherever they are. Keith tries to impress this upon Veronica, but ultimately, the heart wants what it wants.

Of course, like all Marshmallows, I’ve long wanted more “Veronica Mars,” but I don’t think I’m being too biased when I say this movie is an almost perfect balance of a near-future noir mystery and character drama, just like the series.

More “Veronica Mars” reviews:

Season 1 (2004-05)

Season 2 (2005-06)

Season 3 (2006-07)

“The Thousand Dollar Tan Line” (2014)

“Mr. Kiss and Tell” (2015)