Let me start by saying, the less you know about the new GKIDS release MFKZ going into it, the better. It’s one of those rare movies–about as rare as snow in Southern California–that defies any sort of logical explanation. However, it falls to me to try to explain what makes this adaptation of Guillaume “Run” Renard‘s “Mutafukaz” comics so compelling, so unique in a saturated market, and so worth your time and money to check out. In short, MFKZ is a highly stylized hero’s journey that sees a down-on-his-luck orphan forced to flee his dangerous neighborhood and go on the run from even more deadly forces in order to discover his place in the world and exact vengeance for his parents’ death. It’s got incredible character and setting design, animation that moves at a breakneck pace, and a thumping soundtrack that perfectly complements the madness. See it on the biggest screen possible when GKIDS releases the English-language version in select North American theaters beginning October 12th, with special Fathom Events screenings on October 11th & 16th.
For a little more on just what MFKZ is really about, feel free to read my full review as it continues below, with the warning that some spoilers will be discussed in order to make sense of this insane ride. If Run’s name isn’t familiar to you, maybe co-director Shōjirō Nishimi‘s is, as the character designer on the similarly themed adaptation Tekkonkinkreet, or Shinji Kimura‘s art direction from Batman: Gotham Knight. (The “dream team” also worked together on Akira and are part of acclaimed animation house Studio 4°C; MFKZ is a French-Japanese co-production from that studio and Ankama Animations.) And if you still need a nudge to go see it but don’t want any plot points ruined, then perhaps the voice work of Michael Chiklis, Giancarlo Esposito, Jorge Gutierrez, Dascha Polanco, RZA, Vince Staples, Danny Trejo and more will do something for you.
From the get-go, you’ll know if MFKZ is your speed, though honestly you should be able to tell that from the film’s trailer. If you just happened to stumble into this theater unaware, you’ll be greeted by a gritty noir-styled chase scene (which ends more violently than you might expect) through incredibly detailed alleyways in a filthy, vermin-filled city known as D.M.C., or Dark Meat City. This thinly veiled allegory for the roughest of the rough sections of Los Angeles, California is home to much more than our protagonist Angelino (Tay Lee) and his flame-headed skeleton pal Vince (Staples). It’s also the home of incredibly violent rival gangs–one Latin, one Black–weirdos like Lino and Vince’s acquaintance Willy (Dino Andrade), ordinary cops and citizens who are much more than they first appear, and vast swarms of cockroaches who are actually welcomed into Lino and Vince’s shitty apartment more readily than Willy is. DMC is also home to a stunning angel of a girl, a mysterious beauty who catches Lino’s eye and kickstarts his journey by landing him in a world of trouble.
What starts as an innocent glance by our wide-eyed, onyx-skinned, and pint-sized protagonist soon turns into a violent clash between street gangs and heavily armed and armored police. Complicating matters is the arrival of the clandestine Men in Black led by the white-suited and golden gun-carrying Bruce Macchabee (Trejo) and including the obsessive hitman Crocodile (Chiklis), with our trio of deadbeats caught in the crosshairs. While Lino, Vince, and Willy wind up in some hairy situations (occasionally with hilarious ways out, like boosting an Ice Cream Truck to make a getaway), it wouldn’t be a hero’s journey if Lino didn’t discover his true power within in order to save himself and his pals.
MFKZ is well-paced, moving from set piece to set piece quickly enough to keep the action going but only after the needed character beats have been laid out. It’s a little thin on character development and in explaining the reasons behind Lino’s abilities or why the shady government types are after them in the first place; the movie plays with this fact in a self-referential way, often stamping the very questions that the audience is asking on the screen itself: Who Are These Shady Men in Black? What Is Up with These Masked Luchadors? What the Fuck Is Goin’ On? These are all good questions, and some of them are more sufficiently answered than others.
Ultimately, the conclusion leaves you with more questions than answers, but MFKZ lets out enough thread along the way for audiences to piece 90% of the story together. The rest, hopefully, will be left up to further conversations between fans, future issues of the comic book, and maybe even sequels of the film itself. As for what the film is saying, well that’s more obvious because the plot and narration hits you over the head with an exposition dump that lays everything out in plain view. (Run himself answers some questions about the film in a much more nuanced way in this interview with Variety, which is worth a read after seeing the film.) Some of the more subtle meaning may be lost in translation with the English version but for the most part, MFKZ is all about the visuals, the music, and the insane ride from beginning to end. It definitely left me wanting more in the best possible way.