Black Panther: Wakanda Forever recently became the MCU's latest theatrical release, marking the seventh movie in Phase 4 to hit the big screen, accompanied by its seven live-action series on Disney+. And as the public lets the events of Black Panther 2 sink in, largely earning incredible reviews in the process, the movie becomes the latest to use one overarching theme that's been consistent in the MCU for the past two years.
The MCU's past phases haven't shied away from this idea, most recently focusing on the idea of legacy in Phase 3 before heroes like Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow met their end. This set the stage for Phase 4 to introduce new prominent heroes like Ironheart, Sam Wilson's Captain America, and Yelena Belova, but their deaths also charted the course for the heroes of the Multiverse Saga to have their own issue to deal with: grief.
Here are the eleven Phase 4 projects in which grief was present in their narrative and impacted the arcs of their main characters:
WandaVision's central theme turned out to be grief as it showed Wanda learning how to cope with Vision's death, leading her to create an entirely new reality in Westview, NJ. That theme ultimately lasted through all nine episodes as she finally had to give up her new family and her perfect life in order to move forward with her own life after losing so much.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Bucky Barnes became the character who dealt with more grief than anybody in this show, learning how to live in a world without his best friend while coming to terms with the trauma of his past. Additionally, Sam Wilson had to work through the struggles of accepting his role as Captain America, all in a world that was trying to get back on its feet after the most traumatic event in history with The Blip.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
With Shaun/Shang-Chi's deeply troubled past thanks to his mother's death, his entire journey became centered on facing that past and settling things out with the Mandarin, his father and the main villain of this solo movie. Having to accept that loss only helps him move further down his path as a hero and accept his place in the world as a new hero.
Although the Eternals are heroes that have been on Earth for 7000 years, the team has to deal with its first bit of grief when Ajak is killed, as it marked the first time any of the group had died. When Gilgamesh met that same fate later in the story, the entire team had to fight through the mourning period in order to stop the Emergence and save the people of Earth from annihilation.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
On top of finally hearing the "with great power comes great responsibility" line, the MCU's Peter Parker went through the most difficult moment of his young life when the Green Goblin killed Aunt May. Even though he teamed up with the two other web-slingers to avenge her death, the loss only made the next phase of his life even tougher as he now must live anonymously with nobody to lean on as he went through the difficult mourning period.
Yelena Belova's entire reason for joining the story in Hawkeye tied back to the grief she dealt with after learning of Natasha Romanoff's death, sending her after Clint Barton for revenge. And while Kate Bishop also dealt with her own issues after the disappearance of her father, Yelena's conflict with Hawkeye took center stage in the back half of Season 1 as she came to terms with her sister's death - something Barton had also been struggling with.
Episode 5 of Moon Knight showed just how much trauma and grief Marc Spector had to deal with as his backstory was revealed, uncovering just how his Dissociative Identity Disorder first came into play. His horrible experiences with his family set up a life filled with pain and suffering, although he used his calling as Moon Knight to help push past that grief and become a hero in his own right.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
The grief that Wanda Maximoff handled in WandaVision remained a major part of her story in the Doctor Strange sequel, becoming the primary villain in a search for a world where she could be with her children. This grief manifested in pure unadulterated chaos as she nearly tore the Multiverse apart on that search for her family, although she eventually realized the error of her ways as she pulled Mount Wundagore down on top of herself to set things right.
Thor: Love and Thunder
Upon Natalie Portman's return to the MCU, Jane Foster came back with Stage IV cancer, all while realizing she was worthy to wield Mjolnir and become the Mighty Thor. Through the back half of the movie, her struggle became more real by the minute as cancer ravages her body, leaving Thor himself as the one that had to deal with his own grief after her eventual passing
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
From start to finish, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever deals with the country's grief in mourning Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa, trying to move forward both in the story and in real life at the same time. But on top of that, Angela Bassett's Ramonda meets her untimely end after Namor the Sub-Mariner's attack, leaving Wakanda even more wounded as the hidden nation tries to get back on its feet.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
Grief is what kicks off The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special as Drax and Mantis try to help Peter Quill enjoy the holiday season while he mourns Yondu's death and Gamora's disappearance. Thankfully, Quill finds himself in a much better place as the Special closes when he finds out that Mantis is his sister, helping him remember the good things about the holidays as he misses those he loves.
All of these examples proved every few months how important the idea of grief was as a theme of Phase 4, bringing the MCU's biggest names to their lowest points before they try to bring themselves back to the best state of mind possible. And as Phase 5 looks to get underway after the calendar turns to 2023, fans will be curious to find out what themes come to the forefront for the MCU's next slate of exciting entries.
All of Phase 4's movies and TV shows are available to stream on Disney+ outside of Spider-Man: No Way Home and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the latter of which is playing in theaters now.