30 years on, the newly-crowned Akeem discovers he has a long-lost son living in Queens.
Caught between a Queens mother and a King for a father, Lavelle Junson has to learn how to balance both sides of his birthright in the new Coming 2 America, remaining true to himself while learning what it means to be a prince.
This sequel to the 1988 film is soaked in nostalgia, with just enough 21st century updates and inter-generational confusions for it to hold its own. Brimming with joie-de-vivre, with gorgeous costumes and relaxed performances from the old crowd, it’s undemandingly funny and not remotely groundbreaking.
Still, even though the twists and turns feel utterly familiar – as parents and children fight then feel their way to common ground and compromise – I never didn’t enjoy it. While I wouldn’t call it *the* film we need right now, it’s certainly a film we could do with.
This is a warm-hearted and well-paced revisit that may bounce from Zamunda to Queens and back again (and again) but is always firmly located in the heart.
Considering our own Royal Family’s constant own-goal tribulations, it’s also reassuring to see a fictional group of royals happy and thriving. Admittedly primogeniture is one royal tradition that no longer affects the Windsors, while it’s at the centre of this return to wealthy African nation Zamunda – though in all other respects King Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and his family are better placed to change (absolute power has its advantages I suppose), and at least they sort out their issues in under two hours.
Over 30 years since his own bride-finding trip to New York, Akeem is still married to Lisa (Shari Headley), and they now have three daughters, Meeka, Omma and Tinashe – though a woman cannot inherit the Zamundan throne.
Akeem has not been using the past three decades to persuade his father King Jaffe to reform the country; tradition still wins out in matters of state, despite eldest daughter Meeka’s abilities and lifelong training.
With leader of adjacent country Nextdoria (yes I did laugh) General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) alternately threatening and cajoling his more powerful Zamundan counterpart into marrying Meeka (KiKi Layne) to his own son, Akeem is delighted to discover he actually has a grown-up “bastard son” of his own.
The young man is somewhere in Queens, the result of a drug-fuelled night on Akeem and Semmi’s first visit. (A long flashback shows he wasn’t seeing Lisa at the time. Despite many royal romances turning to dust with 30-year hindsight, Akeem and Lisa’s cannot be allowed to be one of them.)
Akeem and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) travel back to a now-gentrified Queens to find his son Lavelle (an affable Jermaine Fowler) and bring him “home”, along with his loudly cheery mother Mary (Leslie Jones).
Mary and Lavelle’s arrival in the Zamunda palace sets up mild conflict between Mary and Queen Lisa (Shari Headley), and also some fun as Mary takes advantage of all that the palace has to offer (including the royal body washers).
Lavelle struggles with the changes in his life as he learns to be a crown prince in Zamunda. It’s not helped by Akeem’s determination to hold Lavelle to the strict path of Zamundian royalty. It starts to look as if he’s punishing his son with what he himself struggled so hard to escape as a young man; and after determinedly choosing his own bride, Akeem seems to have become stuck in a rut of tradition which doesn’t fit their family or modern life.
Lavelle’s eventual attraction to palace groomer Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) creates more conflict, as he realises his father only brought him in to fix Zamunda’s political problems.
Many of the characters Murphy and Hall played in the original make an appearance, from Queens barbershop owner Mr Clarence and his customers to Randy Watson, frontman of band Sexual Chocolate; and the also randy clergyman Reverend Brown. (Hall also plays Zamunda’s ancient witch doctor.)
James Earl Jones returns, albeit briefly, as the ailing King Jaffe, making good use of his powers to enjoy his own funeral before he actually dies; an opportunity we should all be given, even if we can’t persuade En Vogue to perform at ours. (The regal Madge Sinclair, who played Akeem’s mother Queen Aoleon in the original film, died in 1995.)
Coming 2 America‘s plot is standard cinematic family stuff, and also universal, even among plebs like us. Father and son get on fine until the imposition of tradition forces them to face the faultlines in their relationship, particularly over Lavelle’s planned wedding to General Izzi’s daughter.
This repetition of events from Akeem’s own life works to an extent – we are often destined to make the same mistakes we pulled our parents up for, with the more superficial generational changes blinding us to just how much we have turned into our mums and dads – though it does mean Coming 2 America never has a chance to reach great heights, as it never aims for them. It doesn’t come across as a lazy sequel though, simply an amiable retread.
Luckily Snipes and Jones are a hoot as Colonel Izzi and Mary respectively, and both are clearly having a ball, as Izzi struts in with his soldiers and dancers, and Mary finally gets to enjoy herself while enthusiastically driving a coach and horses through Zumandan protocol. Meeka and Lavelle’s gradual accommodation is elegantly done (he’s effectively usurping her) though it seems rather pushed into the background.
The intricate costumes (by Ruth E Carter) are glorious, particularly the outfits of the three royal daughters: traditionally regal yet also individual and practical. Being a royal princess in Zamunda means being able to defend a country as well as inspire and represent a populace.
Should you see Coming To America first? I did rewatch it, probably the first time I’ve seen it all the way through since its release. It certainly helped – it’s amazing how much you forget, and much of the comedy is based on the knowledge of what Akeem and Semmi did 30 years ago. The problem is it also highlights how much this sequel trails in the shadow if its predecessor, reusing plot devices with a 21th century sheen on top, rather than creating something with its origins in the past but truly looking to the future.
NOTE: There are mid and post-credit scenes.
In case you missed anything, I’ve written a spoiler-filled article about what happens.
Coming 2 America is currently included in Prime membership in the UK and US, and is also available on other platforms:
Watch the Coming 2 America trailer now: