When it came to film releases in 2020, the modus operandi was “make it work.” Sometimes that meant stalling until a theatrical release was possible and sometimes that meant selling to a streamer. In the case of Eddie Murphy’s Coming 2 America (2021), it was the latter as Paramount Pictures made a deal for the film to stream on Amazon’s Prime Video last spring. Thankfully, for those of us who prefer physical formats to reduce the reliance on the Internet to enjoy the films we enjoy, a physical release of Coming 2 America lands on shelves nearly a year-to-date of the streaming release. Limited only to Blu-ray and DVD, fans of Prince Akeem can go back to Zamunda whenever they like, accompanied by a feature-length commentary track from director Craig Brewer (Dolemite is my Name) and a lengthy behind-the-scenes featurette.
If you’re looking for a spoiler-free take on Coming 2 America, I recommend checking out the initial streaming release review. Moving forward, we’ll engage in spoiler talk.
Since Prince Akeem (Murphy) had returned from Queens, New York, to find a bride, he and Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley) have lived happily raising three daughters — Princesses Meeka (KiKi Layne), Omma (Bella Murphy), and Tinashe (Akiley Love) — in the country of Zamunda. War threatens to break their peace unless Akeem agrees to permit his daughter Meeka to marry Idi (Rotmi), the son of rival country leader General Izzi (Wesley Snipes). All seems set to go until Akeem is informed that he has a son, one older than Meeka and therefore the rightful heir. Unsure of what to do, Akeem takes faithful friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) to join him on a trip back to America to find his son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and find a new way to bring peace once more to Zamunda.
As someone who prefers physical formats over most digital editions (uncompressed sound and video, bonus features more likely, easier access when I’m in the mood to watch), I think that the fact that more of the films that went to streamers are getting physical releases is fantastic. Thus far, The Lovebirds (2020) and The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021) are the only ones which immediately come to mind as having made the jump from streamer to physical, but having Coming 2 America, a film which is a follow-up to a beloved comedy classic, now available to own, enables those for whom Coming to America (1988) is a family tradition to enjoy it whenever they please. While not all physical releases are guaranteed a 4K UHD release, my guess as to why Coming 2 America doesn’t have a 4K option is likely to ensure that the only way to see it in the currently considered highest visual/audio fidelity is on Prime Video. This was the case with Mitchells, so it’s likely the same here. So if 4K UHD with HDR is your preferred method to enjoy the film, stick with Prime Video. That said, the video on the Blu-ray, especially when presented through my Xbox X 4K player onto my 4K television, come through perfectly. It’s not as detailed as a native 4K might be, but the upscaling is good. The audio is clear on all channels, too, which is great, especially in the Prince “Cream” sequence.
Though meager in terms of number, the bonus features included with the physical release are bountiful in terms of information. The sole featurette, “From Queens to Zamunda,” is nearly 26 minutes in length and covers broad items like the casting of 2 (Murphy comments that this film is the first time he’s worked with Saturday Night Live alums since Trading Places (1983) to how Snipes’s involvement within the series has been attempted since the first release (he auditioned and didn’t make it). Regarding Snipes, one interesting tidbit to come out was how the role of General Izzi was initially thought to be played by Murphy as well, but he, Murphy, felt that having someone who could play silly *and* imposing was more valuable to the story, making Snipes a must in the role. What’s truly beautiful is learning not just how the old cast felt about returning, but what it meant for the new, some of whom have enjoyed the film since their early adolescence. For those who enjoy Ruth Carter’s costume work, there’s discussion on how she carried forward previous costume designer Deborah Nadoolman’s work, as well as how Diana Choi (Hellboy II: The Golden Army) and the rest of the special makeup effects team kept a natural continuity with master effects maker Rick Baker’s work from the original. This is the kind of featurette which warms the heart, while also adding depth to the work the cast and crew put in to make Coming 2 America feel like a natural extension of the prior film. While there are plenty of additions made by Brewer during the featurette, if you really want to get information from the director, jump straight to the feature-length commentary track (a cinephile’s most beloved bonus feature) to get a proper deep-dive on the film.
Personally, I enjoyed Coming 2 America so much around its first release that I watched it twice, two nights in a row. I found that the jokes continued to work (much like the first decades later) and that the emotional beats continued to resonate. Where it would seem trite to have so much of the narrative follow the beats of its predecessor, doing so here made sense within Akeem’s character arc. This is someone who first went to America to break from tradition, to chart his own path, yet, when faced with the choice of making Meeka the heir to the throne, he balked and followed the usual path. In this case, that first meant marrying her to Idi before running off to find his son. Either solution would help protect his country from being attacked by Izzi, the seemingly smart thing for any monarch to do; however, it’s also the kind of restricted thinking that nearly got Akeem married to Princess Imani, the General’s sister. (By the by, I loved that the script used the already tense relationship of the two countries to create larger tension for the narrative beyond the interpersonal. Doing so created greater stakes.) The way that the film explores and provides support for feminine ascension to the throne always feels like a natural extension of Akeem versus a reaction to current progressivism between the genders. Akeem was a radical for his time, something the character Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) brings up when talking about the prince to Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), Akeem’s long-lost son. By pulling Akeem back toward the more conservative leanings (without losing his progressive charms), the audience is reminded that as we grow older, we can lose our way, but that doesn’t mean we can find our way back.
That said, if there’s a major problem with the script, it’s worth pointing out that Lavelle was technically conceived via sexual assault. Akeem didn’t know that he was being drugged and possessed no memory of it occurring. There’s nothing malicious in the setup of the event, no sense that Akeem’s in any danger, but he was taken advantage of while being in an altered state. The intent is comical in nature and both Murphy and Leslie Jones (as Mary Junson) sell it as such, yet it’s hard to overlook what’s happening. This might’ve worked in the ‘80s when there wasn’t much discussion or thought of sexual assault perpetrated on a male by a female, but doesn’t now and, with what we know, honestly shouldn’t have then.
Despite this singular thing casting a dark pallor over the introduction to Lavelle, the overall film is an absolute joy. It’s not just the surprise faces (of which are many) or seeing the spectacular cast returning to their roles (which they do with ease), it’s just that the film is filled with life, beauty, and love. The characters are invested in each other, there’s a general lightness that pervades the film throughout, and it totally feels like visiting with old friends. Frankly, we’ve been at a loss for comedies like this for some time, which makes this all the more refreshing.
Coming 2 America Special Features:
- Commentary by director Craig Brewer
- From Queens to Zamunda (25:44)
- Theatrical trailer
Available on Prime Video March 5th, 2021.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD March 8th, 2022.