“Coming to America” was a blockbuster hit when it was released 33 years ago, boasting success in the U.S. box office and worldwide. Starring Eddie Murphy as Prince Akeem Joffer and Arsenio Hall as his best friend and adviser Semmi, the film follows an affluent African prince who visits New York on a quest to meet his queen-to-be; it memorably finds enrapturing comedy in the contrast between Akeem’s happy-go-lucky exuberance and rugged New York City life.
Similar to the first film, director Craig Brewer’s sequel “Coming 2 America” starts off on a beautiful morning in the heavenly paradise that is the palace of Zamunda, a fictional African kingdom. The last time viewers saw Prince Akeem, he was getting married to his true love, Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley) of Queens, New York. Three decades later, it’s now their wedding anniversary and Akeem is crowned king, but every king needs an heir to their throne. Who will rule Zamunda if Akeem only has daughters — who are forbidden to rule? “Coming 2 America” follows the discovery of Akeem’s illegitimate American son, and Akeem’s struggle to make this man from Queens fit into the posh and noble role of a poised African prince.
The sequel is primarily set in Zamunda, granting viewers more views of the lavish palace and all it has to offer — royal bathers, huge celebrations and princely garbs. When Akeem’s son, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), and his mother, Mary Junson (Leslie Jones) arrive in Zamunda, they are undeniably impressed and mesmerized by the perks of royal life. However, it’s not too long until Lavelle feels as if he doesn’t belong. His internal conflict parallels that of Akeem’s in the first film; Lavelle must learn to forge a unique path and make the crown his own.
Just as the palace of Zamunda is abundant with servants and precious jewels, “Coming 2 America” is abundant with celebrity and artist cameos. From Morgan Freeman and comedian Tracy Morgan to Colin Jost from “Saturday Night Live” and Trevor Noah from “The Daily Show,” “Coming 2 America” will have viewers pointing at the screen, countlessly spotting celebrity favorites. Furthermore, performances by music artists such as Salt-N-Pepa, En Vogue, Davido and the “Empress of Soul” herself, Gladys Knight, make the film entertaining beyond the actual plot.
While “Coming 2 America” thrives in the cameo department, its stereotypical depictions of Africans make the film lose its luster. Between the warlords and the lion’s whiskers Lavelle must snip as part of a test, the film’s “jokes” about Africans demonstrate just how outrageous the assumptions people make are. It is debatable whether the film actually uses such ignorant jokes as a force to expose the issue, but regardless, this choice, especially in 2021, may cause some viewers to tune out.
In a conversation between Lavelle and his benevolent royal barber Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), the two discuss American cinema and how sequels can ruin a film that’s already good. While this sequel did not ruin the story of Akeem and his kingdom from “Coming to America,” it did not add much substance to the storyline itself. While the reunion of all the cast members is exciting, it is odd to see that some characters have not developed at all in 30 years — especially Akeem.
The film’s attempt to have feminist undertones through Akeem’s eldest daughter, Princess Meeka (KiKi Layne), was not fully explored, missing the opportunity to lean into a more complex and fresh storyline that a sequel should possess. By introducing Akeem’s three badass daughters but then brushing them aside for the men of the film to take center stage, the film is most disenchanting.
Although the premise of the sequel is not groundbreaking and some of its jokes are stuck in the era of the first film, “Coming 2 America” evokes strong nostalgia with its intentional nods to the first film and its abundance of stars.