by Tim Gordon
Set after the events of the first film, the sequel follows former Prince Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy) as he is set to become King of Zamunda. He discovers he has a son he never knew about in America – a street-savvy Queens native named Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler). Honoring his royal father’s (James Earl Jones) dying wish to groom this son as the crown prince, Akeem and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) set off to America once again.
The film is directed by Craig Brewer, from a screenplay by Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, and David Sheffield, from a story by Blaustein, Sheffield, and Justin Kanew, based on characters created by Eddie Murphy. It is the second installment in the Coming to America film series and serves as a sequel to the original 1988 film. The film stars Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, KiKi Layne, Shari Headley, Teyana Taylor, Wesley Snipes, and James Earl Jones.
From his meteoric rise at the beginning with 48 Hrs. and throughout the 1980s, Eddie Murphy quickly developed into a major force in the film industry. Starring in one blockbuster after another, Murphy soon became A-List royalty and as the decade of the 80s closed, he created his most popular and enduring story, with the release of Coming to America.
The sweet story of a young prince who comes to America in search of a love and life partner became an enduring cultural landmark that is arguably the funniest film from the iconic comedian. Over the year, fans have longed for a return cinematic trip to the fictional African country of Zamunda, as the years turned into decades, it seemed like a reunion would fade into history. While they waited, another fictional African country, Wakanda, further pushed Zamunda into the background.
Suddenly in 2019, Murphy announced that his friends and collection of characters would once again revisit Zamunda. Palpable excitement was soon replaced by a feeling of dread. Would the sequel live up to the enormous expectations of the original or would the sequel diminish the legacy of the cultural classic?
Many of the comedic bits that fans remember from the original film, return in this continuation of the ZCU (Zamunda Cinematic Universe). In addition, many of the original cast members also return, that instead of opening with Akeem’s 21st birthday, the 30th wedding anniversary of Akeem and Lisa serves as the film’s kickoff. As Akeem ponders his eventual rule as king, he receives a visit from a rival ruler, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), who threatens to overthrow his kingdom due to the fact that he has not sired a male heir – as well as Akeem spurning his sister, Imani (Vanessa Bell Calloway) for Lisa. Even though the crown prince has three daughters, including his oldest, Princess Meeka (Kiki Layne), who is more than capable of ruling, General Izzi senses weakness.
Later, Akeem is summoned by his ailing father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), who informs him that his time is short and his final request is a star-studded pre-departure celebration. In addition, he informs Akeem that he has an illegitimate son, from his initial trip to America. He requests that Akeem bring the boy back to Zamunda and groom him as his heir. Before you can say “Sexual Chocolate,” Akeem and Semmi are on their way back to America.
Much of what comes next is eerily similar to situations from the original film, the interaction in the barbershop, or flashbacks of Akeem and Semmi in the club back in the day. Meanwhile, another member of the ZCU, Calvin Duke (Colin Jost), grandson of the infamous Duke Brothers from Trading Places, interviews Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) who unknowingly is pursued by his royal destiny. He meets his long-lost father, and he is encouraged to come back to Zamunda, with his unrefined mother, Mary (Leslie Jones) in tow. Their arrival and the subsequent reveal of Akeem’s parentage create tension in his marriage, as well as confusion among his daughters. Looking for an opportunity to consolidate their kingdoms, General Izzi offers his daughter, Bopoto (Teyana Taylor) to Prince Lavelle. Will this arranged marriage take place or would Lavelle follow in the footsteps of his father and find his queen?
Co-written by Kenya Barris, the film’s first act gets off to a rocky start as several new characters are introduced and while their motives are clear, the execution is woefully lacking. We see Akeem struggles to assume the mantle of leadership of Zamunda, placing the country over the family. He has lost his way as he tries to please everyone and everyone, including himself feels exactly the opposite. Barris’ screenplay picks up the pace, beginning in the second act, finding its footing as Prince Lavelle’s stops trying to be a native Zamundan and with the assistance of his buck-wild Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan), he brings some much needed “Queens swag” to the stuffy African nation. As he struggles to deal with the challenges of growing into a prince, Lavelle develops an easy rapport with his royal groomer, Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) and soon he has stars in his eyes. Guess where this is going?
While not as uproariously funny as the original, Coming 2 America successfully updates the story by adapting to the changing times; not just in Zamunda but taking in all the changes that have occurred since the release of the original. Messages of female empowerment, the gentrification of the old Queens neighborhood, and even the dynamic of the mature relationship between Lisa and Akeem all receive much need updates. There are plenty of surprises in the ZCU and you are encouraged to pretend that you’re watching a Marvel film and stay through the end credits to see which characters return. It is often said that you can’t go home again, but a mature Murphy, coming off his hit film, Dolemite Is My Name, proves to be resilient. While the film does not offer as many laughs as the original, Zamunda appears to be in great hands and hopefully, we won’t have to wait another three decades for a return trip to the second coolest fictional African country on film.