Much of the movie revolves around Veronica's high school reunion, which is fitting, considering that's exactly what this movie is—a reunion of beloved high school characters. Unfortunately, that means Mars newcomers will probably have as much fun watching as they would attending the reunion of a high school they never attended. Funny people are funny people whether you had algebra with them or not, so the show's trademark one-liners and clever banter will still likely elicit laughs even from viewers who didn’t watch the TV series. Veronica's wit, courtesy of Kristen Bell, is as charming and seductive as ever, particularly in the scenes when she's reunited with her father (Enrico Colantoni). But for each joke that’s for meant for everybody, there are several more meant for fans only.
Some of these references are easy to catch, like the street busker playing the show’s theme song in the background, while others are more obscure. If Veronica and Logan's tortured, epic romance wasn't that important to viewers back then, the words they exchanged on the big screen may not mean much.
At times the Veronica Mars movie is too self-referential, too aware that its very existence is a triumph of fervent online fan campaigning. Celebrity cameos from the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis validate the franchise and fans' interest in the show, and the TV series certainly had its fair share of guest-stars, but one surprise cameo in particular briefly makes Veronica Mars feel like a parody of Kickstarter success stories. And in an effort to squeeze in as many nods to the series' past as it could fit, the film sets up a few plots it doesn't exactly resolve. (Then again, maybe that's just creator Rob Thomas trying to keep the door open—he’s said before that he’s crossing his fingers for another movie or series run.)
Thankfully, the big mystery doesn't suffer too much for it. As could be expected for a franchise transitioning from an hour-long TV drama to feature-length film, Veronica's quest to catch a killer feels almost pressed for time. But one common critique of Veronica Mars the TV show was that, even when it had nearly two-dozen episodes to lay the groundwork, the show got tripped up in the details—when I re-watched old episodes recently, I found that even knowing what happened didn't make connecting the dots easier. So in some ways, putting a few constraints on Thomas's storytelling actually helps, and the central action here is almost as good as one of the show's better mysteries. Suspenseful and unexpected without being over-the top, it even avoids Thomas's usual tactic of building anticipation with a sudden number of red herrings.
But enough about murder—91,585 donors didn’t raise $5.7 million to find out who really killed a character once played by a pre-Gossip Girl Leighton Meester. A big part of the show's appeal was that Veronica was the patron saint of high school misfits, the sworn protector of every oddball, outcast, or otherwise disempowered teen who felt she or he didn’t belong. That made her a hero in the eyes of those tuning in at home, too. As fans watched her conquer bullies with her brain (okay, and a taser), take the high road instead of getting even, and seek justice in a town that was rarely fair, she delivered the fantasy of empowerment that so many teenagers—and plenty of twenty- and thirty-somethings—seldom felt. It's that connection, more so than her dueling love interests, that had fans racing to fork over their cash to bring her back.