Director(s): Craig Brewer
Writer(s): Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield, Kenya Barris
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Wesley Snipes
Synopsis: The African monarch Akeem learns he has a long-lost son in the United States and must return to America to meet this unexpected heir and build a relationship with his son.
Coming to America was a phenomenon when it was released back in 1988 and was one of the first films to really put Eddie Murphy’s name on the map. Coming to America has found a following that cherishes the film, so making a sequel to something as beloved as this was a tall task to ask. While Coming 2 America didn’t knock it out of the park, it was able to continue the story of the first film with enough grace to be a solid follow-up to a classic.
Maybe not all the jokes landed, and maybe not all of the moments felt earned, but the real enjoyment of the film comes from seeing everyone back in this world for a second time. With making a sequel this long after the original, there are many things that can be lost in translation along the way. However, similar to Bad Boys For Life (which was released 17 years after Bad Boys II), there was a familiarity with these characters that gave insight into how the last 30 years have been going for them. Just seeing the cast back together and interacting brought you back into this world in a way that felt natural and not forced in a way that was, to put it bluntly, just fun to watch.
Director Craig Brewer, who has worked on his fair share of reboots (he wrote and directed Footloose in 2011 and was co-writer for The Legend of Tarzan in 2016), was able to find a balance between the comedy that made Coming to America so beloved, and the heart that makes Coming 2 America really work. He could have devolved this film into a slapstick family comedy where you are just waiting and wondering when the laughs will come, but instead, he filled those empty moments with a real story of family and change in a new Zamunda. There was an underlying message of learning to be yourself and figuring out who you want to be in this world that was obvious to see but worked enough in the long run to bring something familiar to this story, but still be different from the original.
Eddie Murphy again shows how he is one of the best comedians Hollywood has seen. He slips right back into this role like he had never left it, and is just a joy returning as Prince Akeem. Brewer, who directed Murphy in 2019s Dolemite is my Name, has chemistry with Murphy that really lets him shine as bright as he ever has. There is a sense of trust and understanding between the two that is clear to see as Eddie Murphy looks like he has had more fun in his last two roles than he had for a decade before that. Murphy was also able to reunite with Arsenio Hall in this film as they both came back with the same amount of charm and chemistry that they had back in 1988. They really felt like they had been living in Zamunda for the past 30 years as their characters picked right up where the first film left off in terms of their bond.
Which speaking of Zamunda, the look and feel of the African land were palpable through the incredible Costume and Production designs. Ruth E. Carter maintains her grip as one of the best costume designers working, and while I think she could still get awards love in 2021, if this film had been released a week earlier I think she would have her second Oscar locked up. The designs fit the African feel of Zamunda, as well as being a beautiful and modern look at royal garments. Similar to her Oscar-winning work in Black Panther as these costumes pop on-screen and are “on fleek” as Prince Akeem would say.
I do think this film has a specific audience, and it might be hard for a new generation to get into this film. It doesn’t necessarily stand on its own much throughout, as there are many callbacks and references to the original. A lot of what you get out of this film relies heavily on how you connected with the first one. I do think there is an enjoyment that everyone will be able to pull from this film, but the real fans of this film are going to be the ones that truly connected with Coming to America, and I think everyone involved with this film wouldn’t have it any other way.
Final: Coming 2 America is a fun and vibrant revisit to Zamunda. It’s funny and heartfelt, while also maintaining the beauty of Zamunda through wonderful production and costume designs. It may not stand on its own that well, but fans of the first film should find comfort and enjoyment with the sequel.
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.