This costume design would even blow Josef von Sternbergs mind...
This costume design would even blow Josef von Sternberg's mind... Amazon Studios

To understand what's wrong with Coming 2 America, we must first understand what was great about Coming to America, a hit back in 1988. The narrative construction of an African prince (Eddie Murphy) looking for love in Queens worked because it was not about black Africa (which the makers of Coming to America clearly knew nothing about), but instead concerned black America in Queens at the end of the closing half of a decade that was in every way historical, the 1980s. You had the fall of the Berlin Wall around the corner; you also had the emergence of a new form of popular music, hiphop. And this was the decade that had coursing through it the transition from Urban Renewal to gentrification. The fantasy African prince (there are only three kingdoms left in Africa) was at the right place at the right time.

Coming 2 America is a completely different story. It does something that the creators of the first film were wise to sidestep: the real Africa. But between 1988 and 2021, there was the Black Panther and a revamped Lion King; in short, Hollywood films that made some effort to incorporate actual African elements into their fantasies. And so, Coming 2 America, looking back at these recent developments, decided to banish totally bonkers things like black African aristocrats playing polo with giraffes, and to include totally real things like the music of contemporary African pop (the capital of which is presently Lagos, Nigeria). The result? An Africa that's totally incoherent and a missed opportunity to conduct a survey of post-gentrification Queens.

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In Coming 2 America, the prince, Eddie Murphy, is in a bit of a pickle because he only has daughters (three in all). His American wife failed to give him what he needed most for the clean transference of power, a son. But it turns out he does have a son, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler). He is a bastard (we are told this too many times). He lives in Queens. He is trying to make ends meet in a white man's world. His mother is Mary Junson (Leslie Jones). His uncle is Reem Junson (Tracy Morgan).

Lavelle has no idea that his father is an African prince. That is the setup. But soon after the prince returns to Queens to find and crown his only son, he returns right back to the fictional African kingdom, Zamunda. And so the opportunity to survey Queens after the lasting impact of the crack epidemic, after the brutal Giuliani years, after 9/11, after the Disneyfication of Manhattan, after hiphop entered the mainstream and began producing black billionaires left, right, and center—all of this is mostly missed. There are a few scenes here and there about these changes (particularly in the barbershop, which is still around, which still has the problem of a black man playing a white Jew), but they ornament the plot rather than define it.

So, I did not like Coming 2 America; but I did love Wesley Snipes' interpretation of a black African tyrant. It's pitch perfect. That man can act. Indeed, his performance as General Izzi, the leader of Nextdoria, is up there with how he killed it in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! The one positive opinion you will have of Coming 2 America is that Snipes is ripe for the kind of renaissance John Travolta relished in the 1990s.