‘Coming 2 America’ Review — A Delightful Return to Zamunda

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Coming 2 America Review

It’s wild when you think that Eddie Murphy has been incredibly famous for most of his adult life. That’s about 40 years in the spotlight. There are going to be ups and downs, hits and misses over a career that long. Over Murphy’s career, with its share of peaks and valleys, one thing has always remained true – he is one of the most charismatic performers to ever grace the screen. Murphy’s boundless charisma carry many of his classic films through modern reevaluation; that incredible smile somehow making you brush off a problematic joke. Just when it seemed like people were forgetting the sheer charismatic force of Eddie Murphy, the star teamed with director Craig Brewer on the electric biopic Dolemite is My Name. Now Murphy and Brewer reunite on a trickier project than a Rudy Ray Moore biopic – a sequel to Murphy’s 1988 classic Coming to America. And they pulled it off, as Coming 2 America is a winning comedy that balances its nostalgia with a new thoughtful story that comically examines the constraints of tradition and the inaction of vested power.

In the 30 years since Prince Akeem (Murphy) traveled to America, the kingdom of Zamunda has prospered. Prince Akeem and his wife Lisa (Shari Headley) have had three daughters, Meeka (KiKi Layne), Omma (Bella Murphy), and Tinashe (Akiley Love). But the good times can’t last forever as Prince Akeem’s father King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) is in declining health, and upon his death will transfer rule of Zamunda to his son. King Joffer is also concerned about the future, and cites that Zamundan tradition requires a male heir to the throne. The military warlord of neighboring Nexdoria, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), attempts to arrange a marriage between his son and Meeka, threatening military intervention if Akeem refuses to give his daughter away in marriage. However, there is a bit of hope for Akeem and the succession of Zamunda’s throne, an illegitimate son from his trip to America who has been kept secret by Akeem’s dearest friend and advisor Semmi (Arsenio Hall).

On their last trip, Akeem went home with Mary (Leslie Jones), and after a bit of weed smoking the two had intercourse; though Akeem has completely forgotten about this. Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) has been trying to make it in the city. The young man’s life is radically altered when he meets his long lost father, and the son joins his mother in travelling to Zamunda where Lavelle will learn his country’s traditions before taking on the responsibilities of becoming the heir to the throne. Of course, this new addition to the family causes a bit of strife between Akeem and his wife and daughters.

The screenplay for Coming 2 America by Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, and David Sheffield (from a story by Blausein, Sheffield, and Justin Kanew) gets off on the right foot by not making the sequel a simple retread of the 1988 original. Instead of Akeem returning to American and marveling at the different customs, Akeem takes Lavelle to Zamunda where the film inverts the culture clash of the original. Some of the storyline is fairly predictable, such as a romance between Lavelle and his royal barber Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha). What Coming 2 America does so well is the way its uses its characters to examine how an idealistic young Prince Akeem, once wiling to break royal tradition, finds himself as the guardian of the traditions he once protested. I really wasn’t expecting this highly anticipated sequel to earnestly and thoughtfully explore how an idealist can become defender of the status quo when their power is threatened, but this film pulls it off.

Once again, Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall take on multiple roles. Some old favorites return in the sequel, and Murphy and Hall bring such comedic energy to their roles that you’d never know 30 years had passed since the last time these characters graced the screen. Coming 2 America is one of those movies where you can just tell everyone involved was having a blast while making it. Like Dolemite is My Name, it’s Wesley Snipes who swoops in and ups the comedic energy of the film with another wild performance. At this point, it should be required by law that any new Eddie Murphy film feature a role for Wesley Snipes as these two have incredible onscreen chemistry.

There is one character that gets shortchanged in Coming 2 America, and that’s KiKi Layne’s Meeka. While the film’s narrative focuses on Lavelle, it’s Meeka who is the more interesting character, a strong young woman who has trained to be the heir to the throne but misogynistic traditions prevent her from ascending to power. I really wish Coming 2 America spent more time on this character and provided her with more depth. For a film that’s willing to interrogate traditional gender roles and power, the way in which Meeka is sidelined is one of the few areas where Coming 2 America comes up woefully short.

Despite its issues with the character of Meeka, Coming 2 America provides Eddie Murphy plenty of avenues to reexamine his past work. Whether its his stand-up or some of his older films, Eddie Murphy wasn’t exactly the poster child for cultural sensitivity. Murphy has been open about his feeling on his past material. With Coming 2 America, Murphy is able to examine where his past work has come up short, the story of changing cultures and shifting traditions reflecting how the nature of comedy has changed over the years. This isn’t an example of Eddie Murphy going “woke.” Instead it’s a maturing artist reflecting on the work of their youth.

Typically, a comedy sequel that arrives more than a decade after the original is usually a surefire disaster (I’m looking at you, Zoolander 2, Blues Brothers 2000, etc.). But Coming 2 America works because its not a product of pure nostalgia. Eddie Murphy and Craig Brewer had a new story to tell and a new perspective to give to these old characters. The resulting film gives us just enough of the past while setting its sights towards the future. It took more than 30 years but Coming 2 America takes us back to Zamunda and it’s an absolutely delightful return.

Coming 2 America
  • Overall Score
3.5

Summary

A surprisingly thoughtful sequel that explores a number of relevant themes, Coming 2 America is the long-awaited sequel that lets Eddie Murphy deliver another hilarious multi-character performance in his latest collaboration with Dolemite is My Name director Craig Brewer.

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