Written by: LLoyd Kaufman and Gay Partington Terry
Directed by: Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz
Starring: Ron Fazio, John Altamura, and Phoebe Legere
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"At first I found it hard to believe that my father was Japanese, and that I was part-Japanese. But that would explain why I've always had these strange, non-American urges to work very hard, save money, and live without credit cards."
If you grew up during the late 80s and early 90s, you might recall an event that seems altogether odd and unexpected in retrospect: the rise and popularity of The Toxic Avenger as a pop culture icon. Somehow a film series featuring unapologetic violence (towards children, even) spawned comic books, action figures (I actually had one), and even an animated children's series. As Lloyd Kaufman says on the DVD introduction to the first sequel: Toxie was huge, and it all started with the release of The Toxic Avenger Part II. It was an all-to-brief period, lasting only a couple of years before Toxie was once again consigned to obscurity. I still find it somewhat amazing that a character from a low-budget Troma film was able to transcend the genre like Toxie did, but it did indeed happen. Incidentally, Troma can be considered "The House that Toxie Built" before the company experienced a swift decline, and not even a sequel to its most popular property could save it.
The Toxic Avenger Part II picks up 5 years after the first film: Tromaville has been rid of all the evil that once plagued it, and its citizens are free to enjoy the simple pleasures in life (like dancing in the streets). This has left The First Superhero from New Jersey in a tough spot, however, as Toxie begins to feel useless, as his daily life at the Tromaville Center for the Blind just doesn't measure up to disemboweling and maiming evil criminals. This all changes when some representatives from Apocalypse, Inc. show up on Toxie's doorstep and subsequently blow up the Center for the Blind and announce their plans to take over Tromaville. Of course, they won't be able to do this by blunt force, so they devise a scheme that involves a device that can eliminate the source of Toxie's power: "Tromatons." Unfortunately for Apocalypse, Inc. (and perhaps unfortunately for viewers), this device is halfway across the world in Japan. Hence, Apocalypse, Inc. preys on Toxie's abandonment issues and sneakily convince him that his father is a Japanese businessman. Hoping to finally fill that void in his life, Toxie promptly windsails all the way to Japan, where a host of hijinx awaits.
Toxie II is a strange sequel because it joins the ranks of Sleepaway Camp II and The Devil's Rejects as sequels that are quite different from the original. While the first Toxic Avenger film wasn't deadly serious (with a pink tu-tu-wearing mutant as the main character, how serious could it be?), it had a decided mean streak and a gritty quality to it that is eschewed in this sequel. Instead, the second film takes a more juvenile approach in both the humor and the overall tone, and it ultimately makes for a disappointing experience. Whereas the first film has some genuinely funny and biting satire, the sequel is almost devoid of these qualities (save for the above quote). Instead, the film is full of extremely over-the-top sight gags like Toxie turning a thug into a basketball and dunking him through the hoop. While this can be fun at times, it sort of does wear on one after a while.
And this is ultimately the film's biggest weakness: it wears out its welcome far too early, as it's often nothing but a series of tedious events that seemingly never end quickly enough. The film gets off to a quick enough start, where Toxie takes on a horde of Apocalypse, Inc. thugs; however, even this grows a bit tiresome after a while. The same problem plagues the later fight scenes in Japan, and the film's climactic car chase grows similarly wearisome. To make matters worse, everything in between these set pieces is pretty much equally as dull, and this is mostly due to the fact that Kaufman and Herz shot way too much material for one film, and they ended up splitting it up into two films. As a result, we sort of got everything unfiltered between both this film and The Last Temptation of Toxie; had they taken the best parts of each and edited them into one film, it might have ended up much better as result. Instead, both sequels sort of just plod along and become tedious and redundant.
There's also a few other strange decisions, such as changing Toxie's deep voice into something far more friendly-sounding. It's an odd decision that makes Toxie seem less like a monster and more like a guy that just happens to be a deformed mutant. Similarly, Sarah, Toxie's blind love from the original film, has somehow morphed into the uber-ditzy, but still hot, Claire (apparently, there's no shortage of hot, blind ass in Tromaville). Of course, taking Toxie out of Tromaville in and of itself is seen as a strange decision by some. I don't really have a problem with the idea of taking Toxie to Japan, but it really serves no purpose to the story except to provide a few instances of culture-clashing; then again, that could have happened in any country. In fact, it seems to me that it would have made more sense to take Toxie somewhere else because, if there's any country that probably wouldn't balk at seeing an 8 foot mutant walking its streets, it'd be Japan.
However, I digress, as you're probably wondering if there are any redeeming qualities to Toxie II, and the answer is yes: the gore is quite excellent, and even surpasses the the original at times. Sure, you have a lot of goofy, over-the-top gore like the aforementioned basketball scene, but there's also some other downright nasty stuff strewn throughout this one, including a guy getting his leg hacked off, and, my personal favorite: a guy getting crushed to death in a wheelchair, which causes all of his guts to spill out. The gore is well done as well, as the film has much higher production values than the original for the most part. Of course, this doesn't show in pretty much any other department on the film (particularly the acting), but Troma vets know to expect as much.
A word of warning, however: you want to make sure to get the true unrated version of the film to see all of this glorious grue, and this might prove more difficult than you might think, as Troma also released the R-rated version of the film. This might not sound too confusing until you realize that this version is also referred to as unrated on its DVD box art. Plus, there's only two ways to get the true unrated version: in the original "Tox Box" (which won't include Citizen Toxie), and as part of the "Troma Two-Pack #3," which also comes with the Tainted Vampire Collection. The recent "Complete Toxic Avenger" box set also includes the R-rated cut as well. To be absolutely sure that you have the correct unrated version, you'll want the one that has the "Unrated Director's Cut" notification in the top-left corner (pictured left).
As far as the audio and video quality for this edition go, it's par for the course for Troma: the picture is the correct 4:3 aspect ratio that looks barely better than VHS, and the 2.0 mono soundtrack is adequate enough. Like most Troma releases, there is also a host of special features, including an introduction and commentary by Kaufman, an interactive tour of Troma, theatrical trailers, some comments from Michael Gingold and Mike Mayo, and a few other featurettes about Toxie in Japan. All-in-all, it's an excellent release even if the film itself is somewhat disappointing. Don't get me wrong, I used to love this one as a kid, but a recent viewing kind of forced me to remove the blinders of nostalgia and see it as a mediocre follow-up to one of the great cult classics of all time. Still, it's worth a return trip to Tromaville for the gore alone. Rent it!
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