Growing up in the 90s Eddie Murphy was a comedy God so it’s no surprise I was raised on his films. “Coming to America” though was honestly one that I didn’t get as much exposure to as a kid, although I did see it enough times to respect it as a classic. When they announced a sequel adding to the long list of sequels we didn’t ask for to long-irrelevant classic movies I was certainly skeptical. Could it capture the magic of the original 33 years later in a very different era of film? Simply stated, kind of just not the way it should have. Released through Amazon Prime, “Coming 2 America” sees many returning cast members including Murphy as Akeem Joffer of Zamunda and Arsenio Hall as Akeem’s best friend Semmi who return to America to find Akeem’s bastard son Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler) so that he can become the crowned prince and prevent a takeover from the kingdom of Nextdoria. Borrowing a lot of the elements from the original while also giving things a more modern flair, “Coming 2 America” is redundant, derivative and probably unnecessary, but it’s also a lot of hilarious fun.
Before I get into what I loved about this movie it’s important to acknowledge that it does have a lot of problems. The primary issue I, and many others, have with the film is that it retreads on a lot of the same story beats and ideas of the first movie to the point where Lavelle’s personal journey eventually becomes literally the exact same one as Akeem’s from the first film. The movie itself even acknowledges this directly as Akeem’s journey to America is told directly to Lavelle at one point to help inspire him. What made the first one so charming was that we saw Akeem travel to America, a land he doesn’t understand, making for a fun mockery of life in America at the time. However, this movie, while it does poke fun at modern American culture, spends very little time on U.S. soil. I’d be surprised if it totaled more than 15 minutes of the movie honestly. Much of the movie is actually about Lavelle’s culture shock in Zamunda. Because Zamunda is a fictional region the concept doesn’t land near as well. Still, it makes for some truly funny moments by examining not how ridiculous America is but maybe some of the good things America has established for its people in contrast to the closemindedness of Zamunda culture like the fact that Akeem’s clearly capable daughter (played by KiKi Layne) isn’t allowed to inherit the throne or how Akeem has seemingly forgotten his dream of becoming his own man by trying too hard to be his father. Again though, these aren’t new themes for any movie, let alone a comedy, to touch on and if I’m being honest “Coming 2 America” doesn’t exactly do anything new with these ideas.
With that said though I can’t say I didn’t have a fun time watching this movie. I went in with low expectations and, surprisingly, only a half hour in I found it was working for me. The cameos and revisiting of jokes from the original film served as a way to remind me how much I enjoyed “Coming to America” even if it wasn’t always on my radar and yet, somehow, despite making the same mistakes as a lot of modern reboots and too-late sequels, especially by trying to replicate but not insult the original’s formula, “Coming 2 America” didn’t feel pandering or boring. It accomplishes the rare feat of finding its own identity while never really doing anything shockingly new or original in the process. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it’s the best way I can explain it. It’s like watching a shameless retread that doesn’t actually feel like a retread. It feels like a modernized version of the original and while that’s what I went in expecting I didn’t realize that this really was all I actually wanted until the credits rolled and I realized how fast the two hours passed and how big the smile was on my face. By taking minimal risks “Coming 2 America” remains safe enough for those who enjoyed its predecessor to appreciate the experience while giving those new to the franchise a fresh interpretation to show why the original is so revered. Of course I can’t go without acknowledging that while this won’t be a career saving performance akin to “Dolemite Is My Name” it’s still one of the most charming Eddie Murphy performances we’ve seen in some time.
With respect to those who won’t like this movie, I need to explain why I respect it in spite of its familiarity. “Coming 2 America” does play it way too safe often copping out in its opportunities at social commentary and failing to really deviate from its established formula. I can compare it to a movie like “Borat” which had a similar goal in the 2000s as “Coming to America” did in the 80s. Both poked fun as America at the time through an out-of-place foreigner. Their sequels are very different but also the same. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” and “Coming 2 America” both borrow heavily from their predecessors, but what “Borat’s” follow up did was properly update its theming to shine light on new, more recent and relevant issues in America. “Coming 2 America” chooses to tell a story more focused on its characters than America itself which works in its own way but kind of defeats the whole point of the original and betrays some of the charm of what made the first movie a classic. With that said though both movies were made to satisfy an established fanbase that waited years for a return to the property and both succeeded in their own way. “While “Borat 2” lived up to and in some ways surpassed its predecessor though, “Coming 2 America” merely decides to be as close to as good to the original as it can be without risking staining the franchise. In that regard, and this might be a disagreeable statement, I think it did its job. It’s not what it SHOULD have been, but it does effectively continue Akeem’s story, introduces some fun and memorable new characters to the fold and provides an enjoyable two-hours of escapism that even made a comedy cynic like me laugh quite a few times. So, in my eyes it deserves credit even if it isn’t the best sequel we could have received.
“Coming 2 America” will probably only add to the debate about whether or not Hollywood is out of ideas or if we really need sequels to classics 30 years later. But we have it and what we get is a perfectly serviceable follow-up that may not live up to its predecessor but still holds its own. It’s funny, well-paced and packs plenty of charm, not to mention showcasing what is in my opinion some top of Eddie Murphy best comedic material in years. I went with low expectations and walked away surprisingly entertained. Could it and should it have done more? Yes! In a lot of ways it does feel like a missed opportunity to update it’s mockery of America for a time when the country frankly probably deserves it. Honestly though, I don’t think we needed another movie like that right now. Seeing a movie that shines some light on some of the good things America has, even in a time where people are trying to fight to retain these good things, is charming in its own way even if it’s not as insightful as criticizing what’s wrong with this country. Whether you end up loving it or hating it I think “Coming 2 America” has quite a bit to offer and, if nothing else, is an enjoyable waste of time that will help introduce a whole new generation to a true comedy classic.