The new movies to stream this weekend: 'Raya', 'Coming 2 America' and more

Coming 2 America, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Moxie are all available to stream this weekend (Amazon/Disney/Netflix)
Coming 2 America, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Moxie are all available to stream this weekend (Amazon/Disney/Netflix)

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Plenty of girl power to go around this week, between long-awaited Disney animated film Raya and the Last Dragon, a worthy and pretty vehicle for Kelly Marie Tran, as well as new Netflix original Moxie!, as directed by Amy Poehler. On the other side of things, the belated Coming to America sequel, efficiently titled Coming 2 America, revisits and inverts a famous comedic premise, and even contemplates how things have changed in the time since.

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Raya and the Last Dragon - Disney+ with Premier Access (£19.99)

Raya seeks the help of the legendary dragon, Sisu (Disney)
Raya seeks the help of the legendary dragon, Sisu (Disney)

Continuing the reinvention of the Disney Princess as begun in Moana - with which this shares some common plot elements – Raya and the Last Dragon doesn’t so much break the Disney mould as it does readapt it. In this world, long ago the continent lived in harmony, until a catastrophe occurred and they divided into four colour-coded nations now only looking out for their own self-interests. Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender may be raising their eyebrows about now, but Raya very intentionally recalls both that show and its sequel The Legend of Korra as much as it does something like Moana; there’s clear homage to Korra in Raya’s character design and costuming as in an early flashback – and their pan-Asian influenced fantasy across the board, drawing on Southeast Asian myth, landscapes and habitats, as well as martial arts.

It’s main shortcoming in this regard in that its grab-bag of influences feel a little monolithic once condensed into a Disney-friendly fantasy world, but it’s a welcome (incremental) change regardless. The story begins in media res, with Raya (the ever-excellent Kelly Marie Tran) quickly explaining how the world came to be broken – which happened when a dragon gem housed within her family’s castle was shattered, unleashing a scourge of faceless and shapeless demons named the Druun that turn the majority of the planet’s denizens to stone, beginning a new Dark Age. Back in the present, Raya discovers the eponymous last dragon Sisu (played by Awkwafina), and they work together to heal a continent now frayed by factionalism and nationalist self-interest.

Watch a trailer for Raya and The Last Dragon

The film’s strongest quality is the tense dynamic between Raya and her pursuer Namaari (Gemma Chan), though Namaari’s conflicted worldview and dubious mission a little more interesting than Raya’s straightforward macguffin hunt. Narratively the story can feel a little uninspired, as the stakes can feel a little vaguely imagined — to match that amorphousness, the enemies appear as evil clouds. Aesthetically, the film doesn’t really break the Disney mould either - with the typical cutesy mascot characters and jokey sidekicks and rigging / art direction that angles for high fidelity and realism first, though with undeniably pretty lighting and water effects.

There’s a brief break from Disney house style in the film’s distinctive and colourful depictions of other nations and its engagement with a different land - but as with the rest, it hardly reinvents the wheel.

Coming 2 America - Prime Video

Eddie Murphy and Shari Headley star in COMING 2 AMERICA 
Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Eddie Murphy and Shari Headley star in COMING 2 AMERICA Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Directed by Craig Brewer of Hustle & Flow, and most recently Dolemite is My Name, the ode to a Blaxploitation cinema icon that paved the way for Eddie Murphy’s comeback. Now iconic Murphy character Prince Akeem is returning too with Coming 2 America, a sequel that actually inverses the fish-out-of-water premise of its original by instead bringing the Americans to Africa. It’s a less compelling angle but it’s at least trying to be something more than a simple repeat of the original.

In fact it even feels anxious about its own status, as a new character reflecting on American cinema posits: “what do we have beside superhero s***, remakes, and sequels to old movies nobody asked for?”

The returning original cast is now mixed in with a who’s who of contemporary Black comedians (and also Salt N’ Pepa?), as Murphy and Arsenio Hall are once again playing multiple roles but to a lesser extent than in the original. Though it’s fun to see the aged up versions of the old stock characters – and returning bits like the fake band Sexual Chocolate, McDonalds knockoff McDowells, the barbershop characters – the better parts of the film are found in the new ones. In particular Wesley Snipes is hilarious as the Prince’s warmongering rival for the throne, strutting and mugging for the camera; literally every movement the actor makes is incredibly funny.

Watch: What to watch on Amazon Prime in March

There’s a strange pacing to it, with a lot of preamble, and then a recap of Coming to America dead in the middle of the movie. But it hits its stride once it gets to its inversion of the original’s premise, now with the American’s as the fishes out of water, surprising in its decentralising of Murphy. Strangely enough, it travels along the same narrative track as Borat 2 with a long lost child, and a surprisingly idealistic contemplation on a the main character’s involvement in systemic sexism. Not to say that it’s self-scolding — this film is often pretty fun, especially when it recaptures its old outrageousness.

Coming 2 America finds diminishing returns on the first, though for the most part it’s a solid modern update to that old premise. But it’s modernised in plenty of the wrong ways too, with bad CG animals and an insistence being in dialogue with the present (Spotify, Trevor Noah). Compared against Brewer’s last film Dolemite is My Name, it does feel like Murphy could be served better by moving on to new characters.

Also on Prime Video: The Mule

Moxie! - Netflix

Hadley Robinson as Vivian in Moxie.  (NETFLIX © 2020)
Hadley Robinson as Vivian in Moxie. (NETFLIX © 2020)

Based on the novel the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, Moxie! is a similarly peppy feminist spin on the high school comedy as Booksmart, though lacking in the visual verve that drove Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut (which itself felt detached from reality in its girlboss idealism). The film follows a young girl starting high school, and balking at the displays of patriarchy from student and teacher alike. After a quick conversation with her mother and discovering the music of Bikini Kill, she starts to distribute a feminist zine which catalyses changes and new frictions at the school.

But Bikini Kill needle drops aren’t enough to save the film from feeling even more facile than that film, with trite and hollow bullet-point dialogue, worsened by clichéd and cartoonish antagonists undermine it flat and uninspired visuals. Further still the film’s depiction of the high school, one populated by Poehler’s comedy contemporaries as disaffected teachers, and characterised by ironic observations of teenage social cliques, as well as self-insert characters and didactic dialogue primed to be screen capped and shared on twitter: aside from some amusing set details (a John Cena poster saying “READ” here, an anti-vaping warning there), it mostly feels algorithmically organised.

Also on Netflix: The Art of Self Defense