Black Panther: Wakanda Forever perfectly concludes the themes of grief and loss that have run through the MCU’s Phase 4. Avengers: Endgame brought an end to the Infinity Saga, and many viewers wondered whether the MCU could ever be the same again. Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans had both bowed out; in-universe, Tony Stark sacrificed his life to stop Thanos and Steve Rogers traveled to the past to finally live out his Happily Ever After with Peggy Carter. Characters may be able to live forever in Marvel Comics, but that simply isn’t possible in live-action, where actors move on – or even, tragically, pass away.
On August 29, 2020, the beloved actor Chadwick Boseman passed away at the age of 43 due to colon cancer. A private man, Boseman had kept his condition secret for four years, and the news shocked the world. The cast and crew of the Black Panther films were shaken at the loss of their friend and colleague, and director Ryan Coogler has recently admitted he came close to quitting filmmaking altogether. The Black Panther The sequel became one of the most important films in the history of the MCU, simply because so much emotion was invested in it by the entire production team. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever wasn’t perfect, but it was a labor of love – and, surprisingly, its themes of grief and loss mean it serves as the perfect conclusion to Phase 4.
The MCU’s Phase 4 Is Defined By Grief, Loss – And Legacy
There’s a sense in which Spider-Man: Far From Homepositioned as an epilogue to Phase 3, also serves as the prologue to Phase 4. It focuses in on Iron Man’s death in Avengers: Endgame, with Peter Parker going on a summer vacation as he tries to escape his grief – and failing to do so. The theme of grief and loss then flows on from Spider-Man: No Way Homedefining everything in Phase 4. Black Widow‘s post-credit scene sets a grieving Yelena Belova on collision course with Hawkeye in his own Disney+ TV series, Shang-Chi’s father Wenwu is driven to unleash the Dweller-In-Darkness because of grief, and the Eternals are brought together again after the death of one of their own. Wanda Maximoff becomes Scarlet Witch because of her grief, evolving into the villain of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. His personal world already shaken by Tony Stark’s death, Spider-Man loses his beloved Aunt May as well in Spider-Man: No Way Home; Thor Odinson rails against the cruelty of fate when he learns Jane Foster is dying of cancer in Thor: Love & Thunder. The theme is developed less consistently in Marvel’s Disney+ TV shows, but it’s there in the background all the same.
But the MCU’s Phase 4 is not just defined by grief and loss; it is also defined by legacy. One generation of superheroes, men and women who sacrificed so much, inspire the next – as seen most notably in Mrs. Marvel, which opens with AvengerCon and a tribute to the lost, before introducing a new hero. The world mourns Steve Rogers, but the mantle is ultimately passed on to another, with Sam Wilson proving himself worthy to wield the shield. The end of Thor: Love & Thunder leaves the Odinson with an adopted daughter, Peter Parker resolves to give meaning to Aunt May’s death by embracing her last message, and Shang-Chi uses his dead father’s weapons for good. Those who have been lost continue to shape the world, and will continue to do so for as long as they are remembered.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Mourns The Death Of A Hero
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever brings these themes to a head in a beautiful and heartfelt way. Marvel could have chosen to recast T’Challa, but instead they took the harder route, creating a film that dared to confront the reality of death. It is Marvel’s most emotional movie to date, with the real-world grief of the cast and crew blending with the narrative in a way that gives the plot tremendous power. The most poignant moment is the introduction, which portrays Black Panther’s death as a moment of heartbreaking defeat for Shuri; she has failed to synthesize the Heart-Shaped Herb in time to save her brother’s life, and in fact she was so busy trying to save him that she was not at his bedside when he passed. The moment feels reminiscent of the death of Gwen Stacy in the comics, which shocked readers because it finally acknowledged that even superheroes can fail. This is generally seen as bringing an end to the Silver Age of comics, ushering in an era where writers dared to wrestle with the world in greater complexity than before.
Boseman was more than Black Panther, of course; he was a remarkable man in his own right. This truth is demonstrated by the last four years of his life, in which he championed so many causes and charities. In May 2018, Boseman gave a speech at his old alma mater, Howard University, attempting to encourage the next generation. Looking back, it feels as though he wrestled with his own desire for a legacy as he went through cancer. It is fitting, therefore, that the theme of legacy runs through Black Panther: Wakanda Forever alongside the theme of grief. This is best demonstrated by Shuri, whose arc – evocative of T’Challa’s own in Captain America: Civil War – transforms her into the next Black Panther. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever‘s post-credits scene then goes one step further, introducing a new T’Challa into the MCU, the son of Black Panther.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Gives Two MCU Heroes A Legacy
But there is a sense in which Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is about more than the legacy of its titular hero. It also introduces viewers to Riri Williams, a teenager who becomes the embodiment of Iron Man’s legacy as the film continues. This is more than mere plot service; it is also a statement of intent, reassuring viewers that Boseman really did change the game for the MCU. In the MCU’s first two phases, Black characters were largely relegated to the role of sidekick – think War Machine or Falcon. But Black Panther: Wakanda Forever positions a Black teenager, a student who would look just like those Boseman addressed at Howard University, at the heart of the MCU going forward. Iron Man is Marvel’s biggest hero, and Riri Williams is the Iron Man replacement. It’s a strategic decision, a promise from Marvel that Boseman’s legacy will be respected and the future really is as diverse as he hoped. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever sets up a more diverse universe, and that’s a delight to see.
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