Sequels have always been seen as an easy way to make money in Hollywood. Even before the seventies penchant for adding a number to the end of a title to denote it being a sequel, Hollywood and the wider film industry were producing sequels, rehashing and reusing the same characters of a successful story in another film.
It is a rare thing, the sequel that is as good or better than the original, especially if the original film is regarded as a good film. The better sequels tend to be made shortly after the original. The Godfather two, one of cinemas most lauded sequels, was released two years after its predecessor.
Rocky two came three years after its parent film and The Empire Strikes Back, named in the old style of sequels where the title did not just gain a numbered appendage, also came three years after a genre-defining Star Wars.
Some sequels have worked with a larger gap between films. Terminator 2: Judgement Day was released seven years after its epic originator. However, the intervening years saw such technological advances in film that the sequel proved to be an impressive spectacle. Unfortunately, subsequent efforts in the series have seen not only diminishing returns but also a definite lessening in quality.
In terms of genre, dramatic action films tend to be easier to make sequels or series of. The characters are set and the story tends to be good versus evil, a relatively easy premise to work with. The comedy genre is not, generally, a good genre for sequels, especially if the film is a hit or classic.
Scary Movie was amusing but was followed by increasingly wretched sequels. Similarly, the Police Academy films stretched a silly idea to the point of punishment for the eyes and mind. Great comedies are even harder to make sequels of. The likes of Airplane, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures and Ghostbusters have all spawned underwhelming sequels.
That is not to say they were bad sequels or not funny, it is just that trying to recreate funny is a difficult skill. Thirty-three years on from its classic originator, Coming to America, stars Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, plus many of the original cast, reprised their roles to make a sequel, Coming 2 America.
Like many fans of the original film, I was not thrilled to hear about a sequel to one of the most quotable comedies of my life. Coming to America is, rightly, thought of as a comedy classic and probably Eddie Murphy’s best film. Playing multiple roles, as does Hall, Murphy was at the height of his powers, having made his name on 48 hrs, Trading Places and two films in the Beverly Hills Cop series.
Directed by John Landis, who was mostly known for directing Michael’s Jackson’s Thriller, even though he had directed many films before that including Animal House, Blues Brothers, Trading Places, starring Murphy, and An American Werewolf in London, the film that would get him the Thriller gig, Coming to America is gold.
With a story by Murphy, Coming to America had an almost entirely black cast and was a comedy that contained very little of the comedy staples laid down in the previous decade’s blaxploitation era comedies. There was no hoes, no drugs, no thugs, no shucking and jiving, none of the expected staples of ‘black’ comedy.
Set in the fictional land of Zamunda – think Wakanda without the technological advancements – Coming to America was a very different black comedy. Whereas before, Eddie had been the funny, wisecracking, black guy in a white world, in Coming to America he was still a funny black guy but he was displaced in a black world.
Coming to America was a hit both domestically and worldwide, with the humour in the film still bearing up more than three decades on. So, what about the sequel? Unsurprisingly, it is not as good as the original. Many have quickly come out to deride it as being a poor, money-grabbing, unfunny effort. That is not true.
Coming 2 America, whilst not been as funny as the original, is better than one could have hoped for with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Wesley Snipes’ General Izzi is a great addition and Leslie Jones as Mary Junson, mother of Murphy’s Akeem’s illegitimate son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), plays to her stereotype but it works well within the context of the film.
The film keeps the laughs coming but still manages to fashion a pleasant story, romcom, in amongst the silliness. Fowler’s role as the would-be heir to Zamunda is a difficult role for any actor to undertake, especially as he was always going to be in Murphy’s shadow. Fowler bears the burden well, with the story split between him and Murphy’s Akeem.
There are some clever nods to the original film with one particularly funny reprise coming from Vanessa Bell Calloway. The barbershop is back, even though all of the patrons of the shop were old men in the first film! And, for me, the return of Sexual Chocolate is a real boon.
Like many sequels, Coming 2 America will always suffer when compared to its predecessor, the original being such an unknown quantity at the time but becoming a classic over time. If one can watch the film in isolation, something made easier by the fact that one does not need to have seen the first film to understand this one, it is an amusing comedy in its own right.
With a one-hundred-and-eight minutes runtime, Coming 2 America is slightly over the rom-com standard ninety minutes but is about ten minutes shorter than its predecessor. The film moves at a good pace with the only dips being when the story strays into rom-com territory, though the dips are slight and do not detract from the comedy too much.
It was always going to be a herculean task to match the magic of the first film or to even make a film that does not offend or alienate the rose-tinted vision of the original’s many fans. Coming 2 America just about manages it.