Released: 5 March
Seen: 5th March
It might seem weird to the younger generation who only know him as the voice of Donkey from Shrek but back in the 80s it seemed like Eddie Murphy could do no wrong. After his sensational turn on SNL he took over the cinema landscape. For pretty much the entire 80s, if you saw Eddie Murphy’s name on the poster then you were guaranteed a great time. His movies weren’t just hits, they were juggernauts.
Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop (1 and 2) and, of course, Coming To America did box office numbers that we would never see from a comedy nowadays. It was a period where Eddie was the king of cinema… and then, the 90s happened and he did OK. He wasn’t the king, but he did fine… then the 2000’s happened and no one wanted to touch a single film he made (except possibly Dreamgirls, but that’s it).
For a while now it’s almost felt like we would never see the classic Eddie back on our screens… and then in 2019, a miracle happened and we got Dolemite Is My Name which suggested that Eddie was back on top of his game. Well, with Coming 2 America, Eddie proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he still has what made him so truly special.
Coming 2 America picks up 30 years after Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) completed their trip from Zamunda to America. Now they are living back in Zamunda trying to make it as prosperous as possible, however, Prince Akeem’s ailing father King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) is not pleased with Akeem because Akeem has only been able to have daughters which means there is no one to take over the throne after Akeem because Zamunda is still a patriarchal society and has stupid rules like that.
Fortunately, Akeem finds out that he actually has a son… that son just happens to be back in America from a one night stand he had 30 years ago. So, Akeem must go collect his son, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler) and Lavelle’s mother Mary (Leslie Jones) and put his son through the test to prove he deserves to be a prince. Oh, and he has to do all this while dealing with General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) who either wants a peaceful union with Zamunda or to take it over by force and he really isn’t picky about which one happens.
In terms of “How do we follow up one of the greatest comedies of the 80s”, Coming 2 America does a pretty OK job. Instead of having the Zamundan royalty trying to make it in America, the main focus of the film moves to the American characters dealing with life in Zamunda and all the new privileges that come with being part of this royal family. This means most of the film has Akeem in his home where he should feel safe, so the new conflict is more about him dealing with his family. It’s a small enough set of changes to keep the film feeling fresh without being radically different from the original.
Where the big changes come in is the new cast who give Coming 2 America a very interesting energy. Some of what they do really works, Jermaine is a charming enough lead that you really come to care about him, Leslie just lights up the screen with everything she does and Wesley keeps proving that he should just stick to comedy because he clearly loves playing these weird characters. Honestly, the whole cast is just as good as ever. Eddie and Arsenio in particular just fall back into their old rhythms like it was only yesterday that they were playing these characters, no one is dropping the ball here.
And when I say ‘no one’, that extends to the people who were handling the set design who just went for broke with everything they had to build. Ruth E. Carter, who will soon be getting a well-deserved star on the Walk of Fame, decided she was going to go all out on the costumes and outdo the work she did on Black Panther (which, I’ll remind you, is the work that got her to win her first Oscar and I won’t be shocked if this work gets her a second one). Every element of this film is every single person working their hardest and giving their all and it shows, you can see that everyone has come to play and it’s infectious.
Now, this is not to say Coming 2 America is as good as the original because it isn’t. The original is a genuine laugh out loud classic that was a perfect combination of talent and time, this is not that. This is a really good follow up that is almost designed to remind everyone why we like these characters and these performers and it does a spectacular job at being exactly that. The jokes are there, but they aren’t as gutbusting as the original. The original was a very proud and enthusiastic R, this is a more reserved PG-13. There’s also a few jokes that feel like they were written roughly around 1990 and weren’t adjusted for about 30 years, including a joke about Trans people that really feels uncomfortable nowadays but would’ve probably been seen as progressive 30 years ago. Some of this already feels aged, that’s the point we’re making here.
Coming 2 America is more willing to reference the fact that it’s a sequel to a classic, at one point literally calling itself out for being that. Do not expect this to be as good as the original, you’re going to be disappointed. However, not being as good as one of the greatest comedies of the last 50 years doesn’t mean it’s bad, but just be aware that the film knows it can’t top what came before so it’s going for the next best thing, just being really good.
Coming 2 America is a great reminder of the comedic skills of Eddie and Arsenio together and I really hope we get at least a few more films with them during this Eddie Murphy resurgence. While it’s not going to match the original any time soon, there’s still so much charm and warmth here that it feels like what one would expect from a sequel made by more fully grown adults. They’ve grown a lot since the last one, the edge might’ve been scrubbed off in the process but what’s left is still pretty damn good.