Another superhero film? Not quite. Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma entertainment brought us the unlikeliest hero, The Toxic Avenger (1984). Spanning multiple sequels, TOXIE is ready for his comeback. In Macon Blair’s The Toxic Avenger (2023), multiple Emmy Award-winner Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) is Winston Gooze, a struggling everyman-janitor, transformed into the toxic avenger after a horrible accident. Jacob Tremblay (Room, Luca) is Wade, Gooze’s step-son who is dealing with the grief of recently losing his mom and living with the struggling to pay bills.
Don’t get it twisted, The Toxic Avenger is full of absurd moments like multiple shots of a pimply butt, followed by extracting in the most horrific of ways the colon of said pimple butt therefore bursting the person of said pimple butt – with lots of blood and gut spilling. Why is this important? Well, in the most surprising of ways, the chaos is balanced with Dinklage and Tremblay’s sweet and layered portrayal of a complicated stepfather/stepson relationship and is the driving force behind all of the chaotic actions that follow Gooze’s horrific accident. It’s a familiar trope, but it works really well to let the audience ground itself to something between the throws of chaos.
The screenplay, by actor/director Macon Blair (he played Robert Oppenheimer’s lawyer in Oppenheimer this summer) with Lloyd Kaufman and Joe Ritter, smartly gives us ample time to get to know the dynamic between Gooze and Wade before diving into all things toxic. While Wade struggles to cozy up with Gooze after the recent passing of his mother, Gooze is unrelenting in his love for him and is the main reason why he ends up in the toxic situation in the first place. Blair gives Dinklage the moments to emote the love he has for Wade in simple moments such as asking him about his school performance and walking him to the bus stop. When Winston learns that his heart condition is fatal and that he may only have six months to a year to live he gets into full dad survival mode.
It’s with this knowledge and the endless piling household bills that forces him to go to the extreme and crash his employer’s BTH gala, talk to the CEO, Bob Garbinger and plead for him to help him pay for his medical care because he has a stepson he needs to live for. The pleasant surprise of casting is Kevin Bacon as Garbinger. From the emo haircut, to the fuzzy slippers and evil doing of a toxic spewing corporation, it’s not that shocking as to why Bacon would have accepted this role. And by that same token it’s a gift that Bacon accepted this role because he lets loose, foot..gotcha!
Rounding up the eccentric characters is Bob’s brother, Fritz Garbinger. Fritz’s look can be summed in a couple of words. Weird. Penguiny. When Elijah Wood first pops up on screen, your eyes may take a moment to adjust and then you’ll just continue wondering what is going on with the choices that were made in his costuming but by the end you’ll completely fall in love with it in the weirdest of ways. He’s the secret weapon in the toxic avenger and is fighting his own familial battle with Bob, his brother who takes him for granted and does not treat him with brotherly love.
If it has not been iterated enough, the casting of this film truly lays the foundation for the chaos, blood and guts and rounding out the stellar cast is Taylour Paige (Zola) as J.J. Doherty, “a serious reporter” investigating the toxic and corrupt nature of BTH. Paige, Dinklage, Tremblay make a fun trio in trying to take the toxic spewing BTH corruption down. Doherty also has a stake in the game as we learn that her mother ate up all of the BTH infomercial saving products that were being sold, ended up getting cancer and dying. She wants to expose BTH and prevent others from being harmed. Again, every main character in this has a well thought out storyline, purpose and moment to shine which is a credit to Blair’s screenplay. You feel the thoughtfulness and care of these characters and to honoring the legacy of Troma’s original films whether it’s through fun little Easter eggs like signs “St. Roma’s” or the tutu that Dinklage dawns and is eventually seared into his character it’s these flourishes that makes you feel the love and attention that was given to getting it right and also updating it to contemporary times with the effects, music and storyline.
One can’t talk about The Toxic Avenger without talking about the production design, special effects makeup and effects and stellar score. All the sets feel gritty, lived in and big in scope yet also feel intimate for the world that Gooze is living in. The low-fi original was set in the 80s with a low budget. Blair’s film ups the ante and while you can certainly see this was not made on a shoestring budget, they actively made choices to keep that same low-fi feeling through the use of the absurd costume designs, the practical Toxie suit, and some puppet designs like the toxic chicken we see at the beginning of the film that pops up throughout. There’s some use of animation and when Gooze gets drowned in toxic waste, there’s a fun sequence of his “transformation” with no fancy looking CGI, just a play on colors, and camera effects – a similar feeling like the twister getting Dorothy to Oz, in The Wizard of Oz. It’s a clever way to pay homage to the original while also upping the caliber of The Toxic Avenger. This is a well made film that doesn’t take itself seriously, but is serious in trying to make something worthy of Kaufman and the original.
The highlight of the film though is the score and fictional music of the insane clown-like posse band, The Nutz that play shows and also are Fritz’s goons that can never quite kill the right folks. Will Blair and Brooke Blair manage to make the band’s songs rock and the rock-driven score adds to making the absurd mop wielding toxic avenger actions sequences dynamic and fun. This movie is fast-paced and the score makes you a little uncomfortable and excited at the same time but that’s what makes this film so fun.
Utter absurdity. Bonkers. Ridiculous. All words that describe the thoughts that go through one’s head while watching Blair’s The Toxic Avenger (2023). While in certain circumstances those words may signify a less than enthusiastic film watching experience, it’s a delight to say that this reimagining of Kaufman’s iconic mop wielding toxic avenger tale is entertaining and shockingly heartfelt. Get ready folks, there’s a new superhero in town. Well, not new, reborn. Strap in for a wild ride. TOXIE forever.
This review is from 2023 Fantastic Fest. The Toxic Avenger (2023) is a Legendary Entertainment and Troma Entertainment production but there is no U.S. distributor at this time.