Movie Review: The Toxic Avenger

Good evening my lovelies. Tonight we examine another B movie classic, The Toxic Avenger. This is very much a “love it or hate it” type of movie for a number of reasons. The plot is basically the story of some horrifyingly nerdy kid named Melvin whose life is turned upside down by being exposed to toxic waste that then transforms him into some Rocky Dennis looking thing with superhuman powers. If this sounds like a movie you'd hate I would steer clear of this one, because how I described it was putting it nicely. There's a number of reasons why you could either enjoy or thoroughly hate this movie so let’s get started.

Number 1: The Plot

How I described the story in the previous paragraph is the ENTIRE movie in a nutshell. Honestly, I could have left it there without leaving too many loose ends. The Toxic Avenger follows the classic superhero movie framework to a fault. When you think of how a comic book or superhero movie is supposed to go what do you think of? Some back story, a turning point, a love interest, and a villain are the bare bones that should probably go into this particular brand of highly fictitious storytelling. The strange thing is all of these elements are in this movie in some form or another and not in too subtle of a manner… so what's the problem? THEY BEAT YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH THEM. There is absolutely no styling at all in the delivery of the story. There are a few things that have to happen throughout the course of this story for it to stay intact but it's like someone took the notes for the script and accidentally made the movie from them. Just to give you an example, the town in the movie is called Tromaville and the movie was produced by Troma Team. Like I said the “story” is complete without a ton of extra details but a lot of it makes absolutely no sense or is just hard to watch.

Number 2: Melvin the Moron

The story in The Toxic Avenger is about a particular part of the life of Melvin who is undoubtedly the protagonist. In a weird way the first part of the story bears some resemblance to Spider-Man but in the worst possible sense. When we meet Melvin, we meet a completely oblivious and hopelessly awkward minimum wager at the local health club in...roll my eyes...Tromaville. He is constantly being mistreated and, of course, he can't talk to women to save his life; but this is where the Spider-Man parallels stop. The story does try to make Melvin seem like an innocent character through his comical clumsiness and mishaps but the image painted gets really old really fast. The first image we have of Melvin is that of the quintessential nerd; vacant eyes, outdated and unkempt hair style and clothes, all topped off by a goofy ear to ear grin. He looks like he doesn't have a care in the world… which may seem harmless enough, but it can actually be damaging to an audiences acceptance of the main character. Based on some of the decisions that Melvin makes it's easy to assume he doesn't know or care what other people think of him. So then, why should we as an audience pity him? If he doesn’t feel bad I'm certainly not going to. I mean, I feel like he's laughing at himself most of the time so I feel content to laugh with him. However, the script does make some halfhearted attempt to earn the sympathy of the viewer by having Melvin constantly abused by a quartet of your typical high school jocks and their girlfriends. However, there are a few issues with their interactions that make it hard to relate to their relationship.

Number 3: Why you so crazy?

Like I said, Melvin is a complete and utter moron. Early in the movie we are initially introduced to Melvin's oppression in the form of the aforementioned garden variety high school bullies. While they don't remain a constant threat throughout the duration of the film they do attempt to set the stage for the sort of trouble that Melvin, soon to be the Toxic Avenger, will eventually be faced with. The group of high school bullies is meant to be hated but I hate them for all the wrong reasons. Again, all bases are covered. The guys work out all the time, they smoke, and they have slutty idiot girlfriends. Ya know, all the important stuff if you're in high school. The script progresses to demonize them, but in such a bizarre and inappropriate way that it makes me hate the people who made the movie more than the characters. This is where you first start getting that “beaten over the head feeling”. The character development could have just stopped at the fact that they are being bullies. How hard do you really have to work to make people hate a bully? Instead of just letting it be, the writers somehow found it necessary to set these four apart by giving them perhaps the strangest and completely vile mutual interest in cinematic history. This stellar group of high school abominations has apparently developed a game, complete with scoring system and all, where vehicular manslaughter of various innocent pedestrians earns points. I am being completely serious.

You might assume that this somehow impacts the story as a whole but it doesn't in the slightest. I might as well make this point now since we're talking about it; if you're bothered by disturbingly excessive violence then I would recommend you don't get within 10 feet of this movie. It's scary how the script just plays it off like it's just some interesting character trait when it's probably the worst thing I've ever heard of anyone doing for fun. As if that wasn't enough the “leader” of the group, “Bozo” (yup, Bozo), not only does that as a hobby but is visually completely insane. The guy is literally shaking with anger at the sight of Melvin. He doesn't think it's funny that someone could be so clumsy but instead becomes infuriated. Granted, if I had to be around someone like Melvin for more than 5 seconds I'd get a little annoyed too but this guy is losing it just watching him mop the floor. Let me put it this way, Bozo (I know, I know) at one point gets mad that he can't run anyone over with his car. Let that sink in. He is mad at the fact that he cannot murder people. I know it's a movie but that is a genuinely disturbing notion. I'm no longer finding myself disliking this character but am instead afraid for my life that someone actually exists that could create such a person, albeit in their mind, but still.

Number 4: Who are you?

While having a back story for the main character is important The Toxic Avenger somehow bypasses that need while somehow still including a back story. In the beginning we meet Melvin and his character. The turning point leading him to become the Toxic Avenger, what I’m guessing to be last straw that Melvin can take as far as the bullying goes, is even hard to relate to. The script utilizes the classic bait and switch trick by which Melvin is deceptively seduced by Bozo's girlfriend into doing something ridiculous.  He is somehow fooled into wearing a full body spandex suit and a tutu which he dons proudly as he makes his way to meet his would be mistress. He then proceeds to meet her in an allegedly empty and dark pool area but when the lights come up he has apparently been duped into kissing what I think is a sheep in front of what seems to be the entire town. Get it yet? Get the joke? Melvin is really, really dumb. To top it all off he runs away in embarrassment only to jump out of a second story window for some reason into a conveniently placed truck with open top barrels full of toxic waste. The reason the truck was stopped there at all was because the driver stopped so he and his partner could take a snort-cocaine-straight-out-of-the-bag break. Also, Tromaville is the toxic waste capital of the world. See what I mean yet? It couldn't be to ask for directions or that their tire blew out or something less distracting like that.

This is what I'm talking about when I say that all the elements are there but in the stupidest manner possible. Yes, he had to get exposed to toxic waste for the sake of the story but why like this? Lucky for him the exposure changes him in more ways than just physically. He goes from stammering village idiot to a freakish athlete with the diction and punctuality of a Shakespearean actor. So basically he's a completely different character who just happens to have the name Melvin. His voice is different, how he talks is different, he's at least a foot taller, and he's a hundred times smarter than he was before. Good thing he doesn't get lymphoma and die like anyone else would in this situation but instead has the rare reaction to toxic waste where you turn into a genius Quasimodo creature. I can't even roll my eyes far enough to accurately explain how much I hate this transition. I get that his character can't be exactly the same as the beginning but he bears no similarities at all to the Melvin everyone knows and hates. There has to be at least something tying him down to who he was before but there really isn't. The writers dug their own grave with this one, however, by making his original character so regrettable in the first place. It just serves to make his transformation that much more confusing. At this point I wish I didn't meet him in the first place because I have to meet him all over again… and I already wished I didn't meet him at all! All good characters change from the beginning of a story to the end, but when the change happens in all of 5 minutes how can anyone relate to what's happening? The change has to come from organic reactions to the adventure at hand. They learn a thing or two about themselves along the way and are better for the experience or something to that effect. Not “something happened and all of a sudden I'm a completely different person”. That's just stupid.

Number 5: What is happening?

After we meet Melvin for the second time, as the Toxic Avenger, the rest of the movie is basically him beating up and killing wrong doers over and over. His methods range from ripping limbs off to crushing someone’s head in a weightlifting machine to deep frying someone’s hands, but the gist of the story remains the same for a lot of the film. A turning point does finally come when for no reason Melvin decides to murder an innocent, feeble old woman at a Laundromat by running her through a washing machine and steam pressing her. If you're confused don't worry it doesn't get any better. As if murdering people all the time wasn't an indicator… Melvin finally comes to the realization that he “might be” losing it. It is explained that this woman did in fact have a pretty extensive criminal history but that doesn't explain anything because Melvin didn't know that when he killed her. Regardless of the specific person he decided to randomly butcher alive, or their background, Melvin still killed someone without any motivation or provocation. He walked in and proceeded to murder her, and that was it. As far as I'm concerned his character is permanently and irreparably flawed at this point but the movie moves on all the same.

The climax of the movie occurs when the corrupt town mayor begins to fear that Melvin will eventually come for him and orders a search and destroy mission for Melvin. Melvin is eventually located and is surrounded by the town and a readily available National Guard with at least 3 tanks at their disposal. Ignoring the fact that two of the tanks are basically aimed at each other, it's safe to say that they're not taking chances with him. I have to admit that even I was curious as to how Melvin was going to get out of this predicament but I couldn’t have predicted what happened next. Fortunately, Melvin lives in the most forgiving town in history where random acts of murder are acceptable and some people can still remain on his side. Just when it seems like he is done for, one of Melvin's supporters speaks up and convinces literally everyone that they can't kill Melvin. Going so far as to even convince people who have no history with Melvin (including the entirety of the National Guard) in what is possibly the stupidest attempt at an emotional ending to any movie ever. Everyone just puts down their guns and everyone is happy almost as fast as you read that. Even the captain or general or whatever is obviously emotionally torn as to shoot Melvin or not. Keep in mind that they have never met before or had any interaction whatsoever. So where is all of the emotional conflict coming from? He utters a simple “I can't”, and puts down his gun along with everyone else and we're done. That's it.

In Conclusion: Tell me how you feel

As far as B movies go I can't even give this movie decent marks. The thing that I love about classic B movies as that they create this alternate world where people act strange, but on par with their equally weird circumstances. However, The Toxic Avenger forces me to care about and accept completely unbelievable and ridiculous characters with no real rhyme or reason to things they do. I can't get used to one character before they do something that I can't get past for the rest of the movie; which for the most part is murdering people. The bullies do it, all the alternate villains do it throughout the movie, and even our hero does it… a lot. It makes it so I can't really get a feel for who I'm supposed to root for, because everyone is doing the same horrible thing. You can't have the protagonist and antagonist doing the same thing and wonder why I'm confused when they fight each other about it. The issue of consistency is too damning of an element to ignore and when it is disregarded you get a frustrating and confusing adventure for the whole family to hate. The thing that makes B movies so memorable is that they happened completely by accident. No one was trying to make a bad movie; there was an intended goal with someone who really believed in the story and what they were doing. Not only does that make the story consistent but it makes movie more memorable because it had a consistent feel to it. The Toxic Avenger feels like someone just threw it together as some terrible joke which is probably why it feels like a cynical piece of crap.

Call me picky but I'm giving this movie… 0 mustaches out of 5.

-Dirty Dave




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