Beyond Fest review: ‘Outrageous Toxic Avenger’ has inventive new spin

1 of 5 | Peter Dinklage stars in “The Toxic Avenger.” File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 1 (UPI) — The Toxic Avenger, which screened at Beyond Fest in Los Angeles, is a respectable adaptation utilizing Hollywood resources. And yet, it hasn’t lost any of the anarchic spirit of the original.

Winston (Peter Dinklage) is the stepfather to his late girlfriend’s son, Wade (Jacob Tremblay). Winston works as a janitor at the BTH chemical factory and finds out his health insurance won’t cover the medical treatments he needs.

So when Winston can’t get BTH CEO Bob Garbinger (Kevin Bacon) to help him, Winston tries to rob the factory, which happens to keep all its cash on hand in safe with one guard. That same night, Winston runs into environmentalist J.J. (Taylour Paige) and Garbinger’s goons trying to stop her.

The goons dump Winston into the toxic waste BTH is pumping out, which mutates him into The Toxic Avenger. Now Winston has super powers to defeat BTH.

The 1984 independent horror superhero film by Troma had an environmental message, as it were. The ’80s toxic waste scare was fertile ground for a superhero origin story and unfortunately proved correct as local communities deal with the fallout of chemical companies.

The new film from writer/director Macon Blair expands the environmental message to include pharmaceutical companies, as BTH is producing prescription medication. There are also perceptive stabs at woke-fearing hate groups and other modern issues.

Troma films also stood out from their Hollywood counterparts for their “anything goes” attitude, throwing any sex, violence, and/or comedy at the screen with little rhyme or reason. Blair captures that attitude but hones it into a more consistent comedy structure.

Blair’s film employs running gags where random people off-camera have extreme reactions to the film’s events but are only heard in voiceover. Also, any time subtitles identify a new location, they do so with a joke.

Scenes of extreme violence or convoluted plot exposition are edited towards a punchline. There is even one satirical take on gratuitous nudity without being gratuitous itself.

Blair also uses the visual language of superhero blockbusters to adapt this absurd character. Villains conspire in extravagant sets under heightened lighting.

Tropes of exposing a corrupt corporation, superhero morals and training with new powers and weapons evoke the Marvel movies, even though Winston’s weapon is a mop.

Blair satirizes other movie tropes like only someone who adores the genre could. Conventions like distracting henchmen, communicating exposition or speaking in catch phrases are handled in new ways that seem like a movie fan was waiting his whole life to change the formula.

The Toxic Avenger includes plenty of Easter eggs for fans of the Troma film, but each one is a clever homage with a new spin. It’s not just a collection of references to another film.

Much of the execution of the Toxic Avenger himself seems old school. Some of his elaborate kills have to be computer effects, but Dinklage is wearing makeup and a costume.

The makeup holds up in broad daylight. Winston also encounters some other victims of BTH pollution that also look like wonderful animatronic puppets.

No one can accuse The Toxic Avenger of being a watered down remake. It has all the gore and immature comedy that made the original beloved, which is exactly what the post-Marvel superhero genre needs right now.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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