We Used to Be Friends: Five Reasons Why the Veronica Mars Movie is Much More than “Fan Service”
HERE’S a challenge for the intrepid researcher: Go to Google and search for five or so reviews of the Veronica Mars (2014) movie from the mainstream press that don’t include the following term: “fan service.”
For the uninitiated in such things, fan service is a descriptor widely understood to mean the act of “giving the fans exactly what they want,” and for some reason, it is being applied to Veronica Mars on a remarkably consistent, nay universal basis.
Have all media writers just discovered this term at once?
If so, can we look forward to the idea of “fan service” also being applied as an adjective to upcoming major geek releases such as Godzilla, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Star Wars Episode VII?
Or, more insidiously, is the term “fan service” being applied regularly only to Veronica Mars because the film was funded the crowd-source way, by Kickstarter?
The real question here is this: does the fact that fans of the TV series (2004 – 2007) paid for the movie’s budget mean that Veronica Mar is less of a real — and therefore less worthy — of a film than any other?
It seems that in this case, “fan service” is actually a code term utilized to diminish or slight the Rob Thomas film and to transmit (through stealth means…) the notion that Veronica Mars is less legitimate a movie than one that, by contrast, a studio has paid hundreds millions of dollars to support.
You know, real movies like the The Lone Ranger (2013) or R.I.P.D.(2013)
Of course, this notion of Veronica Mars being somehow illegitimate is patently absurd. And the idea of Veronica Mars as drooling, empty-headed “fan service” can be negated simply by a close analysis of the film itself.
In that light, here are five reasons why that Veronica Mars is no mere “fan service” film.
1. First, the film resolves the Veronica Mars love triangle of Logan-Veronica-Piz by having Veronica not only select one man over the other, but by doing so in almost thoughtless, rude fashion.
It seems like fans of the jilted character would be deeply upset not just by the outcome of the film, but by Veronica’s method of dispensing with the prospective beau.
To “please the fans,” in other words, it would have been much easier not to resolve anything, to keep the triangle intact for prospective future films.
Instead, the movie resolves a key character arc in the on-going saga, and it does so in a way that doesn’t make Veronica look good…or particularly nice. She basically embarrasses a nice guy in front of his Mom and Dad, who have come to town to visit.
So…why needlessly piss off one whole “Team” of fans if you’re so assiduously pursuing this so-called “fan service?”
2. I’ve read the (strange) complaint again and again in mainstream reviews that too many tangential characters appear in Veronica Mars, and that they are present in the film simply because fans want to see them again, and not for valid narrative or thematic reasons.
Again, it’s relatively easy to dispense with this argument.
Do we need to see Madison or Luke again, for instance?
Yes we do. Because they remind us explicitly of Veronica’s outsider status in Neptune, and the control of the town by the “Haves” (over the “have-nots.”)
Veronica faces adversity at every turn in the film and series because she is not from a celebrity or wealthy family. The presence of Madison, Luke, and others reminds the audience that Neptune is a town divided, and that Veronica is on the side of the underdogs.
Similarly, do we really need to see Deputy Sax, or Leo, or the High School principal, Mr. Van Clemmons?
The answer again, is affirmative.
All three of these characters are, basically, professionals who work (or worked…) in Neptune, but can’t afford to live there or grow wealthy there. They form Veronica’s informal network of support, and reveal to the audience that she is fighting the good fight against entrenched power.
Once more, it’s notable that all three of these characters are, basically, “employees” of the “Haves” of Neptune, and thus are afforded a close-up look at the elite’s avarice and greed.
By point of contrast, consider Thor: The Dark World (2013). There, the villainous Loki momentarily transforms into a fully-costumed Captain America, and Chris Evans puts in a cameo appearance.
Now this is true fan service.
Chris Evans is there to make geeks happy, but his presence serves no larger thematic or narrative purpose outside that function.
The appearance of Evans as Captain America is an overt marketing gimmick, yes, to connect the Marvel films together, and to let us know that Winter Soldier is coming up. So perhaps there is a purpose for the cameo, but that purpose is based in economics, not art.
However, most significantly, this scene could have been omitted from the film without losing anything pertaining to the story, the film’s themes, or its character arcs.
You can’t say the same of the moments with Madison, Luke, Van Clemmons, Leo or Sax in Veronica Mars, and that’s the crucial distinction.
3. You would think that if Veronica Mars is mere “fan service,” the film would be dominated by scenes of three of the franchise’s most popular supporting characters: Wallace Fennel, Mac, and Vinnie Van Lowe.
Yet, because the film’s central mystery does not directly impact these characters, they are afforded relatively little screen-time.
Instead, they appear only when they serve a function in the overall narrative. Vinnie is in one scene, essentially, where he provides crucial information about stolen spy computers.
Again, the necessities of fan service would have put these folks front and center…whether they belonged in that position or not.
So if all the makers of Veronica Mars cared about was “fan service,” then why not put the fan favorites where we can see them?
4. Stereotypically speaking, it seems, fans would desire a happy ending for “their” movie, right?
Instead, the film ends with Logan leaving Neptune for 180 days, and Veronica left to stew in the after-math of her choice. Meanwhile, Mac works for Evil Incarnate, the Kane Software Company, and Mr. Mars is badly injured, recuperating in a hospital. Also, Weevil seems to return to a life of crime.
Lastly, a conspiracy is still afoot in Neptune, one that takes the life of a franchise character.
If the movie is mere fan service, why not just feature a happy ending and be done with it?
And come to think of it, why no nudity either? Don’t you think the fans would have liked that?
If Veronica Mars sought to vigorously massage the fan base, it could have featured a far more graphic love scene than the one now in the picture.
5. Finally and most importantly, let’s discuss the film’s artistry.
Veronica Mars’ resurrects the series’ conceits about class-warfare, updating the premise for the age of “stop-and-frisk.”
The local police establishment is stained with corruption, and is actively seeking to incarcerate and remove any element it considers undesirable, guilty or not. The not-so-secret agenda, however, is to make Neptune a community where only the rich and the famous can live and all others — the worker class — will have to be bused in from…somewhere else.
Ask yourself: is this idea the very one that fans were dying to see, or an artistic re-assertion of the franchise’s central philosophy?
A real “fan service” movie might have just seen Veronica returning to Neptune to help Logan escape a murder charge. The focus would have been on that relationship, and not the haves-vs-the-have-nots conflict, or the general creepiness of Kardashian culture.
Similarly, the Veronica Mars movie, as an update of the film noir format, revolves around modern technology. The mystery involves many Web 2.0 Age devices and programs. The dialogue obsesses over “Google alerts,” “memory sticks,” “in-boxes,” “sex tapes,” and tablets programmed with the capacity to spy on their owners.
In every sense, the film’s central mystery suggests the ways that our modern technology fails to connect us, but rather transforms us into voyeurs….or worse.
Again, one must ask: is this something that the stereotypical fan was yearning deeply for, or a legitimate social critique, the bread-and-butter of the series?
IT seems to me that far too many critics are obsessed with the idea that Veronica Mars can’t be discussed as a real film because fans got it made.
The fact that fans were involved in the film’s economic genesis seems a way only of ignoring the film’s trenchant commentary about America in the Age of Celebrity.
In other words, many critics are talking inside baseball to convince readers the film is somehow unworthy, when they should be gazing at the film’s actual text to discern what it says, and how well it says it.
These critics shouting “fan service” seem a lot like the franchise’s entitled 09’ers. They appear from a distance to be defending a turf — and the status quo — for fear that real democracy might bring more crowd-funded movies, and more Veronica Mars.
To which I respond: Marshmallows of the world, unite! Veronica Mars is again blazing trails…