The Marvel Cinematic Universe has experienced a series of creative highs (“WandaVision”) and narrative lows (2021’s “Eternals”) throughout Phase Four, but the “Black Panther” (2018) sequel “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has to be considered a triumph.
Ryan Coogler, who directed the movie and co-wrote the script with Joe Robert Cole, had the unfortunate and unenviable task of resetting the popular franchise in the wake of the untimely death of star Chadwick Boseman in 2020. The result is a film that is probably too long (it is not alone), but one that is also deeply moving as it honors Boseman’s T’Challa and sets up his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), to be the new Black Panther. Danai Gurira and Angela Bassett give strong, emotional performances as Okoye and Queen Ramonda, respectively, as Wakanda faces a threat from Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) and the ancient underwater civilization of Talokan. To cut through the overall heaviness of the narrative, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Martin Freeman reprise their roles as new CIA director Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and her ex-husband Everett Ross in small supporting appearances.
It might not be as groundbreaking as the first movie, but “Wakanda Forever” is a box office hit and sets the MCU on a new course. One has to wonder whether it has what it takes to take home the award for film ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards like “Black Panther” did before it. If so, it’ll be a much-needed win for an unsteady, overstretched MCU, but it will be a notable achievement for Louis-Dreyfus as well. Nominated 21 times over the course of her storied career, she will extend her SAG Award record to 10 wins if the film goes home a winner.
But extending her own record — set in 2018, when she took home the awards for TV comedy actress and TV comedy ensemble for HBO’s political satire “Veep” to surpass eight-time champs Julianna Margulies and Alec Baldwin — would not be the only noteworthy aspect of a “Black Panther” triumph. It would also mark Louis-Dreyfus’ first film nomination and win as well. To date, all of her SAG Award bids have come from her work on the TV shows “Seinfeld” (nine nominations, five wins), “The New Adventures of Old Christine” (two nominations) and “Veep” (10 nominations, four wins).
But if Louis-Dreyfus hopes to make history (again), “Wakanda Forever” will need to overcome a few small obstacles first. The film is currently in eighth place at 40/1 in Gold Derby’s combined odds. The field is led by Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film “The Fabelmans” (19/5 odds), which is then followed by the fan favorite “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (second, 4/1), Sarah Polley’s acclaimed drama “Women Talking” (third, 9/2), Netflix’s “Knives Out” (2019) sequel “Glass Onion” (fourth, 13/2) and “The Woman King” (fifth, 10/1). Also hoping to sneak into the top five are “The Banshees of Inisherin” (sixth, 16/1) and late entry “Babylon” (seventh, 25/1).
Every one of said films can probably make an argument for an ensemble nomination (though some more than others), which means it’s likely going to be a tight race right up until when nominations are announced in January. While there is very real Marvel fatigue happening in Hollywood as the mega franchise continues to expand across both film and TV, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a moving story about overcoming the odds. If any one of the ensembles outside the top five can do just that, it’s this film.
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