While no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, The Toxic Avenger Part II is a moderate improvement over its predecessor. It’s funnier, its plot has more going on, and it felt more action-packed. Is it still a junky B-movie? Of course! But this one didn’t bore me the way that the first Toxic Avenger did. There’s always something to look at in Part II, and that’s something I couldn’t say before.
This film picks up a few years after the original, and has the Toxic Avenger (Ron Fazio and John Altamura are both credited) heading to Japan to search for his father, Big Mac (Rikiya Yasuoka). Meanwhile, as he leaves, an evil organization called Apocalypse Inc. is taking over his hometown of Tromaville. We get parallel stories this time around. We get to follow Toxie in Japan, taking out bad guys there, while also watching Apocalypse Inc.’s takeover and makeover of Tromaville. Whenever one story starts to drag, the film flips to the other one while letting the first get to a place that’s more interesting.
The tone is far more comedic this time. Or, it’s more forthright in its attempt to make us laugh. It’s more slapstick and over-the-top ridiculousness this time around. By doing that, it makes the extreme scenes of violence even funnier. Last time around, it was cheesy because it was a low-budget production. This time it’s embracing that aesthetic and style, and builds around it instead of it just being something that comes of circumstance. That allows it to be more successful at what it attempts.
Those who were paying close attention (and care) will notice several changes between this film and the previous one. Melvin, the human name of our hero, has a new last name. It was “Ferd,” and now it’s “Junko.” His blind girlfriend has undergone name, actress, and personality changes. She’s now “Claire,” played by Phoebe Legere, and is a more generic ditzy blonde. You’ll also notice that the Toxic Avenger’s costume and makeup look cheaper. My guess is that the talented people from the first film got higher paying jobs based on that work.
The action scenes and the deaths are more elaborate in this film. You get a couple of lengthy fights, often involving multiple people. There is still a focus on the excessive, and of the ridiculous, but that’s what people want from this sort of film. If the violence was toned down, lots of people would find even less reason to give them a watch. They’d just be a bad movie, and Hollywood gives us those by the bucket. Bad movies that set themselves apart are sometimes worth seeing.
A problem I had with the first film was the way it was borderline misogynistic in the way it portrayed (and exploited) its women. This one might be worse in that regard. But it’s played for laughs this time around. I’m still trying to figure out if that mitigates the issue or exacerbates it. Does jokingly doing something make it okay? Or does it make it even less of an okay thing to be doing? Sex comedies exist and do just that, but it would be creepy if you remove the comedy, right? You figure it out.
Surprisingly, The Toxic Avenger Part II isn’t all that racist. Should that be a surprise? This is a franchise that often tries to shock its audience, and setting the film in Japan would have allowed it to do just that by being less than nice to the Japanese culture. It lives on stereotypes but it doesn’t really much negatively with them. Sumo wrestling, for example, is seen in a very positive light. The fish market provides multiple ways to end fights. Communal bathing … well, you’ll have to see.
Missing from this chapter is any sort of point or message. That was one of the few things that The Toxic Avenger had going for it, and that’s absent from this installment. I think I’ll take a meaningless enjoyable movie over a boring purposeful one when it comes to schlocky B-movies. It would be great if we could have both, but this is a Troma franchise, so I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high.
While it doesn’t really match up when it comes to continuity, The Toxic Avenger Part II is a more enjoyable film than its predecessor. By focusing more on intentional comedy — rather than the unintentional comedy brought about by a lack of budget — the filmmakers provide many genuine laughs. The plot is busier and the action is more frequent, allowing us to always have something to watch. It’s still junk, but it’s funnier, more action-packed junk. I’m okay with that.