‘The Toxic Avenger’ Review: “Your Mileage May Vary”
Legendary Pictures was undoubtedly an unexpected but welcome choice out of all the production companies to re-introduce the campy and incredibly gruesome Toxic Avenger to modern audiences. This 2023 reboot has been a long time coming. Now, thanks to the world premiere at Fantastic Fest, I’ve finally witnessed firsthand the gnarly and grotesque escapades of The Toxic Avenger. Troma as a production company (and almost a genre in its own right) is something I haven’t had the chance to experience before. So, seeing this film with a fresh set of eyes, not entirely aware of the tropes expected of this kind of black comedy, made it an unforgettable experience.
Directed by Macon Blair (a producer and actor in popular Jeremy Saulnier films such as Blue Ruin and Green Room), The Toxic Avenger is a fascinating assortment of modern filmmaking and B-movie cheesiness that prevailed in the 70’s and 80’s. This time around, the titular character is portrayed by Peter Dinklage. The inspired casting makes this ridiculous film work more than it should. Dinklage brings a delicate balance of humanity and off-beat/unexpected humor that feels like a great encapsulation of what the movie is.
As down-on-his-luck janitor Winston Gooze, Dinklage brings to life the same type of superhero origin story that the oversaturated superhero movie market has seen before. There’s the family relative dependent on the hero (Jacob Tremblay in the role of his stepson), the bad medical diagnosis, the lower-class financial struggles, and of course, the evil corporate douchebag brought to wonderful campy life by Kevin Bacon.
These cliches wouldn’t work if they weren’t done with just the right amount of self-awareness, unconventional production design, and gnarly practical effects of violence that The Toxic Avenger uses. After all the radiation dumping and horrible accident shenanigans are through, Gooze is born again as the Toxic Avenger in all of his practical effects glory.
The film’s dedication to practical effects is perhaps its greatest triumph. After the transformation, Dinklage is in full body suit, heavy prosthetics mode as the toxic hero. The bulk green prosthetics and face work done on Dinklage are very impressive, and the best part of it all is how the heavy prosthetics used on the actor, now unrecognizable, don’t take away from his performance. From facial expressions and line delivery to grotesque action sequences, The Toxic Avenger is an exercise in the absurd on a large scale.
You could tell that Macon Blair had an absolute blast making The Toxic Avenger. Moreover, it’s surprising at times to watch this film and see just how much the director got away with. There’s plenty of gore, mean-spirited gags, and meta-commentary on the current state of the film industry. The movie is unconventional in every sense of the word, and while that makes it an entertaining watch, it is also the reason why it has some of its flaws.
The confident absurdist take works well for the heroes of the movie but less for the villains. Bacon’s evil CEO-type Bob Garbinger works well (until the third act of the film), and Elijah Wood’s henchmen archetype, Fritz Garbinger, is underutilized. This is especially surprising, considering who they managed to get for this movie. Dinklage’s chemistry with Tremblay as the father-son duo is the movie’s heart. Unfortunately, it’s out of focus for much of the runtime. Instead, Blair and Co. choose to lean into the absurdist nature of what I can only assume to be a homage to the original films.
The one-dimensional bad guys could be off-putting if the insane Troma antics are not something you’re acquainted with. Moreover, the film’s third act is when The Toxic Avenger goes off the rails. The film chooses to entirely drop its pre-tenses of bearing some sort of resemblance to a conventional superhero story. Instead, it revels in gore and surreal, absurdist action. Overall, the results are mixed, and your mileage may vary. The Toxic Avenger is a surprising production, especially considering the talent and big production company name behind it. This film isn’t for everyone, but for the people it is for, it’s something that can’t be missed. – Ernesto Valenzuela