C’est un muvais Mutafuka!
In these times when people seem more divided than ever, it’s always nice when talent from across the globe come together on a project that can show us just what we can accomplish united. In this case, it’s the combined styles of Studio 4C (Celsius) from Japan and France’s slowly growing powerhouse Ankama Animations to adapt an indie French comic set in California. The story centers around a kid named Angelino living life on the mean streets of Dark Meat City, until ogling a cute girl lands him a car accident which triggers strange visions and abilities he never knew he had. Soon, he and his skull-faced friend Vinz are targeted by government agents, immortal luchadores, poetic gangsters, and a strange society that could link Angelo’s powers to extraterrestrial origins.
It’s hard to say which studio had more influence on this film since both have their own unique flair that blends together well here. Studio 4C is no stranger to international projects, having worked on anthology films for American properties like “The Animatrix”, “Batman: Gotham Knight”, and “Halo Legends”, as well as co-producing both “Transformers: Animated” and the 2011 Thundercats reboot with Cartoon Network. Ankama is no slouch though, having started as a video game company and only have a handful of animated shows to their names, which are mainly adaptations of those games, “Wakfu” and “Dofus”. Prior to this, the only film experience they had was “Dofus Book 1: Julith” in 2016, which displayed their impressive range of talent and likely contributed to this adaptation of a comic that came from their country and shares their anime-influenced sensibilities.
MFKZ wears its love of anime on its sleeve from minute one, but where some projects would make this a distraction and substitute for story, this film…also does to some extent. There are random interjections and shouted questions at several points in the film to sometimes explain something or add extra stylish art. But while that may have made more sense in the comic, they really only stop a movie flat when it could be getting on with the plot. Luckily the smooth and fluid animation makes the points they want to be style over substance have a LOT of styles, but it’s still at the cost of what could be a more engaging story.
In fact, the structure of this plot is pretty uneven and messy at times. It begins well enough as we begin in the “normal world” the characters inhabit that is slowly encroached upon by agents who want to capture or kill them, but as Angelino and Vinz explore Dark Meat City in order to find a proper hiding place, the city isn’t super fleshed out and just adds several mundane (albeit well drawn) locations. It definitely feels lived in and somewhere you can imagine as a real place, but things like the aforementioned immortal band of Mayan luchadore guardians that are entertaining, but feel like they belong in another movie altogether. Things finally get an interesting look to them once we enter the main villain’s lair, but even that is all too brief and riddled with clichés, followed by an intense but cheap climax with a lot left unresolved.
Luckily, what this movie may lack in well-crafted plot, it kinda makes up for with its cast of neat looking characters and boasting some major talent amongst them. While leads Angelino and Vinz are played in the English Dub by Kenn Michael (“As Told By Ginger”) and musician Vince Staples, respectively, Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad”) and Danny Trejo (“Machete”) lend their voice to antagonists Mr. K and the more prominently shown Bruce. RZA also briefly appears as poetry slamming gangster Shakespeare, and Michael Chiklis voices Agent Crocodile. Each character brings at least an interesting design and a striking personality to the scenes they’re in. And I definitely didn’t expect I would come to care about a clan of roaches, but damn if I didn’t by the end.
The exception being love interest Luna, played by Dascha Polanco. I haven’t seen her work on “Orange is the New Black”, but her role in this was pretty barebones love interest character, so I can’t imagine she had a ton to work with. Which reminds me that there are only two female characters in this whole movie, with one being Angelino’s mother who is killed in the first few minutes of the film, while Luna barely appears until the halfway point and kinda just falls for Angelino rather quickly. That’s a bit of a markdown, but still a pretty overall good cast despite this.
MFKZ is a flawed film to be sure, and maybe relies a bit too much on its aesthetic to carry it through the structural issues with its story, but it still leaves an impression through its sheer tenacity. Beyond that, it’s a bright sign of global forces in animation bringing a unique vision to life and hopefully an example of greater things to come. I’d gladly see a sequel if it’s ever made, but this one on its own is Mutafuking fun.