'Coming 2 America' is a heartfelt and hilarious sequel that doesn't forget its roots

If there's something specific you're hoping to see in a Coming to America sequel, prepare to walk away a happy customer. (Unless it's Eriq La Salle; sorry, Darryl fans.) A tastefully raunchy-yet-inoffensive joke about the royal bathers? It's there. A twisting of the Paramount logo to make it a real place in fictional Zamunda? Yup, you got it. Paul Bates, aka the Joffer royal family's servant Oha, breaking out his beautiful falsetto pipes for a musical moment? Hell yes. It's not like the trailers have been subtle about building a connection to the past. We've already been told that Eddie Murphy revived Randy Watson and his band Sexual Chocolate. And Arsenio Hall's esteemed Reverend Brown is back too, still as "good and terrible" as ever. But don't make the mistake of thinking this sequel is a straight rehash. In fact, Coming 2 America is a surprise and a delight. If you're worried that PG-13 rating translating to defanged humor — the original was a hard and well-deserved R — you can squash that worry now. This sequel is funny, and in all the ways that should really matter to fans of the original. The story is, fittingly, a bit of a script-flip. Picking up decades later, Akeem Joffer's (Murphy) is now married to Lisa McDowell of Queens (Shari Headley), with the couple ruling over Zamunda as king and queen. They've had three kids together, all daughters, and therein lies a problem: By law, only a male heir can inherit the throne of Zamunda. Image: Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios Nevermind the fact that Princess Meeka (KiKi Layne), Akeem and Lisa's eldest child, is clearly fit to rule. She's also entirely uninterested in attaining power by way of an arranged marriage to the son of General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), ruler of Zamunda's neighbor and chief rival, Nexdoria. That outcome seems inevitable until Akeem is led to an unexpected discovery: He has a bastard son living in Queens, the result of a one-night-stand that we never got to see in the original movie. You've probably picked up already on the fact that Coming 2 America is driven by the same flavor of absurd humor as its predecessor. It's no accident that "Meeka" is just Akeem spelled backwards, or that Zamunda's rival neighbor Nexdoria is a bit of "next door" wordplay. That sense of humor is what makes the audacious retconning of an entire sexual encounter into the events of Coming to America, complete with vintage clips mixed in alongside some de-aging movie magic, go down easy. (It also helps that Akeem's baby mama, Mary, is played by none other than Leslie Jones.) Absurd comedy is the heartbeat of this sequel, just like it was in the original. You can see it in General Izzi's multiple ostentatious arrival ceremonies, which always end with Snipes hilariously dance-walking/strutting his way into the scene. It's also evident in every frame of the unconventional funeral staged for Akeem's still-living dad, the former king Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones). It's a parade of standout moments in a movie already filled with them, from unexpected musical numbers to what may be the most ridiculous father-son goodbye ever committed to film. Coming 2 America is a surprise and a delight. The newcomers to the cast only add more fuel to a raging fire of big laughs. Jones' Mary and her brother, Uncle Reem (Tracey Morgan), are standouts alongside Snipes. The two SNL veterans bring their natural talents to roles that feel familiar and correct both for the movies and the characters they've played in the past. Snipes is more of a surprise. Fans of White Men Can't Jump know how funny he can be, and that's the Snipes we see again here. Even the cameo moments seem to get it. There are plenty of familiar faces from the original movie, of course. John Amos is back in a small but pivotal role as Lisa's dad, Cleo McDowell. Louie Anderson, who played a McDowell's employee with a name you definitely don't remember (it's Maurice), pops up too. And of course the iconic barbershop returns with its Murphy and Hall meta-cameos, complete with a fusillade of jokes that have all aged very poorly. As it should be for that bunch. But you'll definitely want to watch for surprise appearances from the likes of Trevor Noah and Morgan Freeman, among others. Also, make sure you pay close attention when Saturday Night Live's Colin Jost arrives. For people who see Jost as a milquetoast white dude with a very punchable face, there's good laughs to be had here. But for longtime Murphy fans, this will likely be one of the movie's standout scenes. It's just perfect. The younger half of the cast doesn't have nearly as much to work with. Akeem's son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) is played as more of a straight man who can respond to the hijinks unfolding around him. And Akeem's three daughters, played by Layne, Bella Murphy (yes, Eddie's daughter), and Akiley Love, just don't have much to do. There's an important role for them to play in this story, but as a whole the story isn't about them. Image:

'Coming 2 America' is a heartfelt and hilarious sequel that doesn't forget its roots

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If there's something specific you're hoping to see in a Coming to America sequel, prepare to walk away a happy customer. (Unless it's Eriq La Salle; sorry, Darryl fans.)

A tastefully raunchy-yet-inoffensive joke about the royal bathers? It's there. A twisting of the Paramount logo to make it a real place in fictional Zamunda? Yup, you got it. Paul Bates, aka the Joffer royal family's servant Oha, breaking out his beautiful falsetto pipes for a musical moment? Hell yes.

It's not like the trailers have been subtle about building a connection to the past. We've already been told that Eddie Murphy revived Randy Watson and his band Sexual Chocolate. And Arsenio Hall's esteemed Reverend Brown is back too, still as "good and terrible" as ever. But don't make the mistake of thinking this sequel is a straight rehash.

In fact, Coming 2 America is a surprise and a delight. If you're worried that PG-13 rating translating to defanged humor — the original was a hard and well-deserved R — you can squash that worry now. This sequel is funny, and in all the ways that should really matter to fans of the original.

The story is, fittingly, a bit of a script-flip. Picking up decades later, Akeem Joffer's (Murphy) is now married to Lisa McDowell of Queens (Shari Headley), with the couple ruling over Zamunda as king and queen. They've had three kids together, all daughters, and therein lies a problem: By law, only a male heir can inherit the throne of Zamunda.

'Coming 2 America' is a heartfelt and hilarious sequel that doesn't forget its roots

Image: Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Nevermind the fact that Princess Meeka (KiKi Layne), Akeem and Lisa's eldest child, is clearly fit to rule. She's also entirely uninterested in attaining power by way of an arranged marriage to the son of General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), ruler of Zamunda's neighbor and chief rival, Nexdoria. That outcome seems inevitable until Akeem is led to an unexpected discovery: He has a bastard son living in Queens, the result of a one-night-stand that we never got to see in the original movie.

You've probably picked up already on the fact that Coming 2 America is driven by the same flavor of absurd humor as its predecessor. It's no accident that "Meeka" is just Akeem spelled backwards, or that Zamunda's rival neighbor Nexdoria is a bit of "next door" wordplay.

That sense of humor is what makes the audacious retconning of an entire sexual encounter into the events of Coming to America, complete with vintage clips mixed in alongside some de-aging movie magic, go down easy. (It also helps that Akeem's baby mama, Mary, is played by none other than Leslie Jones.) Absurd comedy is the heartbeat of this sequel, just like it was in the original.

You can see it in General Izzi's multiple ostentatious arrival ceremonies, which always end with Snipes hilariously dance-walking/strutting his way into the scene. It's also evident in every frame of the unconventional funeral staged for Akeem's still-living dad, the former king Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones). It's a parade of standout moments in a movie already filled with them, from unexpected musical numbers to what may be the most ridiculous father-son goodbye ever committed to film.

Coming 2 America is a surprise and a delight.

The newcomers to the cast only add more fuel to a raging fire of big laughs. Jones' Mary and her brother, Uncle Reem (Tracey Morgan), are standouts alongside Snipes. The two SNL veterans bring their natural talents to roles that feel familiar and correct both for the movies and the characters they've played in the past. Snipes is more of a surprise. Fans of White Men Can't Jump know how funny he can be, and that's the Snipes we see again here.

Even the cameo moments seem to get it. There are plenty of familiar faces from the original movie, of course. John Amos is back in a small but pivotal role as Lisa's dad, Cleo McDowell. Louie Anderson, who played a McDowell's employee with a name you definitely don't remember (it's Maurice), pops up too. And of course the iconic barbershop returns with its Murphy and Hall meta-cameos, complete with a fusillade of jokes that have all aged very poorly. As it should be for that bunch. But you'll definitely want to watch for surprise appearances from the likes of Trevor Noah and Morgan Freeman, among others.

Also, make sure you pay close attention when Saturday Night Live's Colin Jost arrives. For people who see Jost as a milquetoast white dude with a very punchable face, there's good laughs to be had here. But for longtime Murphy fans, this will likely be one of the movie's standout scenes. It's just perfect.

The younger half of the cast doesn't have nearly as much to work with. Akeem's son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) is played as more of a straight man who can respond to the hijinks unfolding around him. And Akeem's three daughters, played by Layne, Bella Murphy (yes, Eddie's daughter), and Akiley Love, just don't have much to do. There's an important role for them to play in this story, but as a whole the story isn't about them.

'Coming 2 America' is a heartfelt and hilarious sequel that doesn't forget its roots

Image: Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

The choice to focus on Akeem and his son in this sequel has drawn some understandable criticism in the midst of a wider reckoning around gender inequality in Hollywood and beyond. All I can say to that without spoiling anything is Coming 2 America is a fitting sequel that reckons with and questions its own history. It's not a mistake that there's a clear parallel between Akeem's arranged marriage anxieties and Meeka's "only male heirs in Zamunda" anxieties.

Just as importantly, Coming 2 America is a sequel with heart. While yes, everyone involved is presumably hoping on some level to make money and attain greater fame, the finished product doesn't feel like a creatively bankrupt cash grab. There's a reason this movie exists beyond just pleasing longtime fans with more ridiculous antics.

I'm not ashamed to say I had tears in my eyes as the opening frames bring us into Zamunda and the Joffers' lives. There's something immediately comforting and emotionally resonant about seeing these beloved characters living out their "happily ever after." That resonance is a running theme all throughout; the opening scene isn't the only time my emotions spilled forth.

That's the kind of ride you're in for here. For people who have no connection to the original, Coming 2 America is a fun and funny journey that puts in the work necessary both to catch everyone up and to justify its existence in the 2020s landscape. And if you're more like me, who's just been waiting and hoping to see more of this wonderful story someday, Coming 2 America is an absolute joy that remains totally faithful in concept and comedy to the original while framing the whole story inside a much more modern context.

Also, definitely make sure you keep watching through the whole credits. There's a very nice surprise mixed in with an epic blooper reel.

Coming 2 America releases on Amazon Prime Video March 5.