The Toxic Avenger is a reimagining of the 1984 low-budget cult classic about a janitor who becomes a disfigured, musclebound superhero after falling into a barrel of toxic waste. But what is most notable about EW's exclusive first-look images from the film, a release date for which has yet to be announced, is the manner in which writer-director Macon Blair reimagined the appearance of Elijah Wood.
The Lord of the Rings star plays a villain named Fritz Garbinger with blackened teeth, panda eyes, and long tendrils of hair sprouting from his mostly bald pate. What would they say back in the Shire? Blair explains that Wood's appearance in the film is "sort of Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the Danny DeVito Penguin mixed together."
Legendary Pictures Elijah Wood in 'The Toxic Avenger'
"The look came about by discussions I had with our designers and with Elijah himself," he continues. "I wanted it to feel like a Peter Sellers type of performance where he just goes invisible. The idea is that you forget that it's the Elijah that you know from Lord of the Rings or anything else."
The Toxic Avenger franchise can boast four films, an animated TV show, a Marvel comic book series, a video game, and even a stage musical. What the franchise could never claim is the participation of Hollywood stars, but that has now changed, thanks to Blair's reboot, whose cast also boasts Peter Dinklage and Kevin Bacon. Produced by Legendary Entertainment (the folks responsible for the new Dune movies and the cinematic MonsterVerse), the film stars Dinklage as a janitor named Winston Gooze, a low-level employee at a chemical factory. Ruh-roh!
Legendary Pictures Peter Dinklage in 'The Toxic Avenger'
"There is a terrible industrial accident that renders him a mutant and an outcast, but also gives him some super strength and super abilities that sets him on a path of being an unlikely vigilante in this downward-spiraling society," explains Blair, whose directorial debut was the 2017 comedy-thriller I Don't Feel at Home In This World Anymore, starring Wood and Melanie Lynskey. "Similar to the original Toxic Avenger, he's singularly unqualified to be a hero. He's not especially brave, he's not especially crafty, but he has his heart in the right place, and he starts taking it to the limit when he's pushed into a corner."
Legendary Pictures Kevin Bacon in 'The Toxic Avenger'
Blair reveals that Wood's Fritz is the brother of corporate overlord Bob Garbinger, played by Bacon, a character the director describes as in "the mold of Lex Luthor, where they have all this money and resources at their disposal, but he's just kind of a disaster." Wood's character is "the runt of the family, whereas his older brother is this golden god. So, that's their dynamic," Blair adds. "He's kind of a henchman at this corrupt company."
Legendary Pictures 'The Toxic Avenger'
Fritz has at his disposal what Blair calls "a gang of dangerous lunatics" known as Killer Nutz, who are both murderers and musicians. "It just seemed funny to me if we had a rock and roll group, where their presentation is theatrical evil, like KISS or Alice Cooper, but their moonlight gig is professional assassins," the director says. "So, when they talk about how dangerous and evil they are, they actually are dangerous and evil."
Legendary Pictures Taylour Paige in 'The Toxic Avenger'
The onscreen talent includes Zola actress Taylour Paige as JJ Doherty and The Little Mermaid's Jacob Tremblay as Winston's stepson Wade. Blair says Paige's role is part investigative reporter, part vigilante detective. "She's working to accumulate evidence against this corrupt company," notes the actor-turned filmmaker, whose own onscreen credits include Green Room and Oppenheimer. He then describes Tremblay's Wade as "a special kid" who's sweet "but he's got some anxiety issues." He adds, "That's all compounded by this lack of connection with his new father."
Legendary Pictures Jacob Tremblay in 'The Toxic Avenger'
Blair has a long history with "Toxie." The output of low-budget production company Troma, including the Toxic Avenger films, was a major inspiration to the filmmaker growing up.
"My group of friends were starting to make our own movies on VHS. Everything we did was a rip-off of Monty Python and early Troma movies," he says. Blair compares making this new version of The Toxic Avenger to "getting back to those early days with my buddies, but getting to do it with f---ing Peter Dinklage and Kevin Bacon. Very surreal."
Legendary Pictures 'The Toxic Avenger'
An initial image released for the movie (above) showcased just the silhouette of the new Toxie design, but didn't reveal the look in all its glory. Blair is still intent on keeping that unveiling under wraps for the moment. However, the director reveals that the look of the vigilante was inspired by the original films, particularly 1989's The Toxic Avenger Part II and the same year's The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie.
"His look is closer to that, and in terms of color palette we drew from the cartoon actually," the director says. "But it's practical effects. You can see all the goopy little boils and stuff like that. And we definitely stayed true to some of the really iconic elements: the tutu that's melted onto his body, the janitor's mop as his super weapon."
Hey, you had us at "goopy little boils."
The Toxic Avenger costars Julia Davis and Jonny Coyne. The movie will receive its world premiere as the opening night film at Austin's Fantastic Fest, which runs Sept. 21-28.
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