This story contains mild spoilers for Coming 2 America, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Since the premiere of Coming to America in 1988, the movie has been lauded as one of the best comedies of all time. Starring Eddie Murphy as a happy-go-lucky prince from a faraway fictional African country, Coming to America gave us an epic Black romance and a coming-of-age story. More importantly, it was the epitome of the inappropriate yet hilarious comedy of its time. But 33 years later, that formula proves difficult to replicate in the movie's modern sequel — Coming 2 America is simply made for a different time, and as a result, for a different crowd.
The newly released Amazon Prime original film takes fans on a first class trip back to Zamunda, where Crown Prince Akeem Joffer (Murphy) sits upon his throne, ruling in place of his dying father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones). Prince Akeem is happily married to his true love Lisa (Shari Headley) and raising three strong daughters (Kiki Layne, Bella Murphy, and Akiley Love), but he still feels like there's something missing from his life: a son. Though his oldest daughter has spent her whole life training to be the next in line for the throne, Zamundan law prevents women from ruling the country.
Out of nowhere, Prince Akeem discovers that he has a long lost son named Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) living in Queens, New York. So the new king and his right hand man, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), head back to the city where it all started to retrieve the young man. Upon returning to Zamunda, Lavelle tries to forge his own royal path while staying true to himself, and just like his dad, finds love along the way.
Coming 2 America is one of many reboots to be dreamed up in Hollywood these days, with studios and streaming platforms falling over themselves to reimagine some of the most beloved stories in television and film. But unfortunately, the star-studded project doesn't quite capture the magic of the tale it's trying to continue. And how could it? Prince Akeem and Zamunda were ultimately made for a different time.
There were many things about the 1988 film that would never fly in 2021 — almost all of the jokes told in the famed My-T-Sharp Barbershop back then would be grounds for instant cancelation today. Knowing this, Coming 2 America tries to navigate those murky waters through a family-friendly vehicle that is just...not as funny. No one is longing for the transphobic, xenophobic, and sexist tropes of old, but the sequel fails to replace them with something more meaningful.
Perhaps in an effort to appeal to a wider fanbase, Coming 2 America takes on a moralizing quality, aiming at teaching a lesson to a new generation: Blaze your own trail. It also makes a half-hearted effort to shatter the glass ceiling of Zamunda by pushing for women's rights in the notoriously sexist fake country; Princess Meeka (Layne) becomes the Crown Princess, and Lavelle's love interest Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) is encouraged to become an entrepreneur. Even the faults of yore are addressed, as the barbers of My-T-Sharp Barbershop are now hip and sensitive to certain parts of the social justice movement. You won't find those guys being transphobic in 2021.
But the modern spin rings hollow. Thirty years later, women are still pawns in men's stories, existing only to support the male characters' personal development. And though we see a lot more of Zamunda in this film — its narrative evolution no doubt influenced by the overwhelming popularity of Black Panther and Wakanda — the country still comes off as a parody of Africa, complete with stunningly bad accents. (Reminder: There are African actors in Hollywood!)
The surroundings and costumes are more gorgeous than ever, thanks to the genius stylings of Black Panther alum Ruth E. Carter, but for all of the glitz and glamour, the storyline simply isn't developed enough. Easter eggs and callbacks aren't substitutes for a plot, especially when all they do is remind you how much more interesting the original version was.
Coming to America exists in a time capsule, imperfect but important. The sequel's attempt to modernize the story has a reverse effect: Rather than propel the narrative forward, it neutralizes what made it so impactful at the time, rewriting the past instead of forging the future. The end result is film that is aesthetically appealing and safe enough for you to watch with your kids — but did that have to come at the expense of the fun?