Film Review: ‘MFKZ’ Combines Kung Fu, Urban Cities, and Graphic Novels for a New Kind of Animated Film

For anyone who ever wondered, what would a David Ayers and the Wu-Tang Clan animated movie look like, we have your answer. Based on the graphic novel series “Mutafukaz” by French artist Guillaume “Run” Renard, the new GKIDS film “MFKZ” features some crazy visuals, vulgar language, and insane levels of violence. “MFKZ” represents a unique joint venture in animation, combining western urban storytelling with traditional Japanese animation. Directed by Renard and Shôjirô Nishimi, the result is a beautiful yet very adult animated feature.

“MFKZ” follows Angelino (Kenn Michael) a young man trying to find his place in the world. While the world around him looks and feels like the one we live in, Angelino looks different, featuring giant black eyes, a big round head, and a rounded black body. He talks to roaches and has a best friend Vinz (Vince Staples) whose head is literally a skull surrounded by fire. The two are stuck in their desolate apartment until one day Angelino sees a girl Luna (Dascha Polanco) that distracts him from his job, causing him to get hit by a car. Afterward, a secret society begins to chase down Angelino, led by Agent Crocodile (Michael Chiklis), Bruce (Danny Trejo) and the mysterious Mr. K (Giancarlo Esposito).

The film unfolds with an insane narrative yet stays grounded. It takes cues from stories that feature a character destined for greatness. The world of urban life and street art become central to the storytelling, populating the world with absurdist characters. One such character is Shakespeare (RZA) who quotes the Bard while firing off weapons. Shôjirô Nishimi was a storyboard artist on “Akira” so much of this feels similar to pieces of animation there. Yet the violence and explicit nature of the film makes it clear, this movie is not for children

The world of the streets comes alive, but so too does the language and violence it creates. Guns and bloodshed are common in this film. It is not like throwing on a Pixar film and instead fits in with the “End of Watch” or “Bright” categories. This particular feature has better storytelling, but those can serve as reference points for you to determine whether or not you are interested at all.

The world building proves to be extensive for “MFKZ.” There are lots of layers, stitching together disparate times to create a coherent narrative. The majority of the story revolves around Angelino discovering his new powers. Yet there are flashbacks, an introduction to the story, and an otherworldly entity. There are also Lucha Libre wrestlers that factor into the story in a small, yet significant way. Underlying it all are political messages and conspiracies to help explain phenomena in our real world, and the world of “MFKZ.” In this creation the screenwriter, and original graphic novel author, Renard may have over-explained. Yet it helps make the world feel like someone cared about every detail, which at least shows passion.

Regardless of what you think of the actual substance of the movie, “MFKZ” can be stunning to watch. GKIDS continues to favor artistic expression, and “MFKZ” borders on gorgeous. The genre and aesthetic blending really brings some cool images to the screen. The mixture of messy graffiti and the experimentalism from Japanese features fits well together. Bringing a graphic novel to life can be difficult. Renard helps ease this transition as both the director and writer on the project.

Ultimately, “MFKZ” will not factor into the Oscar race. It is both too cool and too odd to appease the voting body. Yet it is a fun style of animation to see brought to life. Bringing eastern animation to a distinctly western world makes for interesting visuals at the very least. Bringing a group of veteran voice actors, who would fit into the live-action version of this story, brings an authenticity to the world. The work is interesting and odd. Frankly, more films should push boundaries in animation, and this one does through style and narrative. Likely a divisive film, it should be seen by anyone with interest in the subject matter.

What did you think of “MFKZ?” Where does it rank for you in the GKIDS slate? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! 

GKIDS distributes “MFKZ” in North America. 

GRADE: (★½)

Be sure to check out our Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where this film ranks among the contenders!