Is “Coming 2 America” as good as “Coming to America?” Of course it isn’t. Nobody familiar with the 1988 classic starring Eddie Murphy at his comedic prime should have expected that to be the case. Is “Coming 2 America” a good movie at all? Well, that really depends on your idea of what a good movie is, specifically a good sequel. Some sequels exist in order to develop themes not fully explored in the first movie, or to conclude a story that could not be told well in one movie alone. And then, some sequels exist simply because they can. “Coming 2 America” might belong to that category.
“Coming to America” has become a cultural touchstone for so many, especially Black people. We’ve all sung along to the high falsetto jingle of “Soul Glo,” or stomped our feet and exclaimed “Sexual Chocolate!” in sync with Randy Watson. The movie has been referenced over and over again in music — music from the movie was sampled in Snoop Dogg’s 2006 song “That’s That,” scenes from the movie were epically recreated in Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” video. Personally, the movie is one of my earliest and fondest cinematic experiences, the first time I saw African people (albeit from a fictional country) portrayed on-screen with a sense of dignity, glamour and humor that didn’t make Africans the butt of jokes. When Darryl (Eriq La Salle) teases Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem saying, “Clothes must be a new experience for you,” we’re not supposed to laugh, we’re supposed to recognize that he is an asshole.
But I digress. It’s easier to go on about the merits of “Coming to America” than to list the merits of its sequel. Not because there are no good things about “Coming 2 America,” but because the good things are so grossly outweighed by simply trying to understand why it was made. There has been clamoring for and whispers about a potential sequel or reboot of “Coming to America” for decades, and this comes as no surprise. Hollywood largely runs on nostalgia, returning to old and proven successful ideas, and the 1988 movie was nothing if not successful: It debuted at No. 1 at the U.S. box office, became the third-highest grossing film released that year, and ultimately grossed around $350 million worldwide.
The 1988 movie’s financial success, coupled with the fact that it is such a beloved comedy classic, must have made a sequel or reboot of the movie a no-brainer for its studio, Paramount. And yet, for a film that has been so highly anticipated and in development for so long, why does this sequel feel so incredibly rushed? Consider the opening sequence of “Coming to America,” the camera lingers on a misty landscape of mountains and fields, dips beneath clouds and then travels slowly over lush forests and rivers for a solid two minutes as the credits roll before finally pushing in slowly onto the Zamundan palace. The viewer is given room to breathe, to get to know this character and this country before the story starts.
This is a ‘Remember this?’ kind of movie, which relies on the viewer’s fondness for the original film and its characters to keep it afloat.
Compare this with “Coming 2 America,” which, taking for granted the fact that most people watching this will probably already be familiar with the story and the characters, zooms over and into Zamunda in seconds, then uses the first few minutes of the film to present a frenetic, cameo-laden montage of exposition that goes by so quickly, we barely have a moment to take in anything or, more importantly since this is a comedy, laugh.
The movie continues this chaotic pace throughout, introducing its main plot: Akeem needs a male heir to the throne he’s about to inherit and, miraculously, learns via a CGI-heavy flashback that he in fact does have a son, back in Queens, named Lavelle (played by one of the shining lights in this movie, Jermaine Fowler). Many other things (gestures vaguely) happen in this sequel, but these things do not feel nearly as important as playing on the audience’s nostalgia.
This is a “Remember this?” kind of movie, which relies on the viewer’s fondness for the original film and its characters to keep it afloat rather than good, coherent storytelling. And honestly? That’s disappointing, but it’s fine. You can’t say it isn’t nice to see Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall interact on-screen together, or spot the plethora of new and old characters (Teyana Taylor, Louie Anderson, Wesley Snipes as a vaguely problematic warlord) or random celebrity cameos (everyone is in this move).
This comes back to the question of what sequels are for and what we want them to do. We often want sequels to make us feel exactly the same way that the first film in any franchise did, but this is a mistake. You can’t watch “Coming 2 America” and expect it in any way to capture the spirit or the magic of the movie that precedes it, because much of that magic depended on the context of the time in which “Coming to America” existed. A great “Coming to America” sequel would have been one that did not sacrifice storytelling and laughs for mere spectacle. A great “Coming to America” sequel wouldn’t have wasted the opportunity of having so many comedic greats together on-screen again (and for what might be the final time, who knows) on largely unfunny gags.
This new movie is cute but not great, making up for a mediocre script with pure enthusiasm. This sequel exists not to compete with the greatness of the movie that came before it, but to serve as a cinematic space in which people, especially Black people, can convene, reminisce and celebrate the idea of this movie rather than the movie itself. During such a bleak time, that’s not nothing. Perhaps it’s everything? Whatever the case, at least we’ll always have “Coming to America.”
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