Spoiler ahead. With Mamma Mia! 2 hitting theaters on July 20, everyone has the same question about the newest ABBA musical, and it's a doozy. Considering that Meryl Streep doesn't appear much in many of the trailers, and in some, she doesn't appear at all, it's only reasonable to ask if Meryl Streep is dead in Mamma Mia! 2. Tragically, Streep's Donna is indeed dead in the sequel. That's not the biggest plot twist of the movie, though, because you actually find out that Donna passed away right at the beginning of Mamma Mia! 2.
One of the most memorable aspects of the first Mamma Mia!, which came out in 2008, is the fact that it never actually answered the movie's biggest mystery, which is who Sophie's (Amanda Seyfried) father was. The three men who arrived on the Greek island were Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth), and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), and they all return to the island in the sequel, as do Streep's characters BFFs, played by Christine Baranski and Julie Walters. So as sad as Streep's absence from Mamma Mia! 2 is, at least she's the only actor from the first movie that doesn't have a big part in the sequel. And the character's younger self, played by Lily James, is seen frequently in flashbacks of when she first arrived on the island.
It would've been great to re-tell the story of Donna's younger days with Streep playing the older Donna and recollecting the time herself, but the movie still works as is. The bottom line is that Mamma Mia! 2, definitely needed to show Donna's past unfold as a prequel one way or another, as after all, Mamma Mia! was all about Donna's past lovers showing up to attend Sophie's wedding to Sky (Dominic Cooper).
In the first movie, it was hilarious to see Streep's Donna dodge the men of her past, but it left so much mystery about what happened on that island back when Donna was younger. Now, in Mamma Mia! 2, you get a chance to find out, but that doesn't mean that you get all of the answers to everything in the second movie. As big a deal as Donna's death is in the new sequel, the cause is never gets explained — it's just said that she's dead, with no other explanation other than that it happened about a year before the movie starts.
Does that mean that Mamma Mia! 3 will show audiences what happened between the time that Sophie invited her three potential fathers to Greece and the five years later when Mamma Mia! 2 takes place? Probably not, because watching whatever led up to Donna's death would be way sadder than anything Mamma Mia! fans want to see. These movies are all about fun, so it makes sense that Donna's death isn't too much a focus — though some explanation would have been reasonable.
And while Streep's character's death closes a door on Donna, Mamma Mia! 2 opens another, in the form of Cher. Yes, Cher shows up in Streep's stead towards the end of the movie, so really, there's little to complain about when it comes to Mamma Mia! 2's cast.