Why Nebula’s Journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Matters So Much
Let her keep thriving.
**Spoilers for Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame.**
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, while fantastic in many respects, is terrible with giving female characters consistent character arcs over multiple films. Just look at Natasha, who varies based on who’s writing her (thanks, Whedon) and what role she serves in the narrative. While newer characters like Captain Marvel, Okoye, and Shuri are fantastic, they’ve not been given the chance to have developed, multi-film arcs just yet. If you want the most consistently written woman in the MCU, just look to the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and Nebula.
Nebula has had the strongest, clearest arc out of not only the Guardians characters, but the rest of the MCU, period. She goes from secondary antagonist to badass antihero over the course of the four films she appears in, and while her arc doesn’t get the moment it deserves in Endgame, she’s still one of the strongest points. More importantly, she manages to avoid the worst trope of all: redemption = death.
For a refresher: Nebula begins as a loyal daughter of Thanos, though she has long been second-best in Thanos’ esteem. Then, through Gamora’s love and sisterhood, Nebula realizes that the person to blame for what has been done to her isn’t Gamora, but Thanos himself. Her mission becomes killing Thanos for what he’s done to her and Gamora, something she tragically never succeeds in.
She becomes an Avenger for a while following the Snap and convinces the Gamora of 2014 to help her stop Thanos, before literally killing her own past self to protect her sister. At the end of it all, she’s back with the Guardians, ready to search for the new (old) Gamora, who disappeared after the battle.
The biggest disappointment of Nebula’s arc so far is that she wasn’t the one to take out Thanos, despite having the most setup for taking down the Titan. It’s also a role that she plays in the comics’ version of this very storyline. Still, what inspires me most about her journey is that she still has a future.
Most of the time, if you’re a secondary antagonist-turned-good guy, your arc ends with death. There is a moment in Endgame where I was sure Nebula would die; after all, isn’t that what killing your past self is supposed to do?
But instead, Nebula lives. She gets a version of her sister back, even if Gamora flees after the final battle. She gets a new home with the Guardians. She has a newfound friendship with Rhodey. Nebula has a family now, and she has the potential for more growth and a happy ending. She won’t just be a tragic death to show how evil Thanos can be, but a survivor who outlives her abuser and who finds a way to be better.
This is an empowering story because it implies that Nebula’s best days are not behind her, but ahead. She does not get one crowning moment of heroism, but continuous heroic moments and the promise of a third Guardians of the Galaxy film. It’s rare to have a villainous female character become an antihero and then a hero in her own right. I hope she gets to enjoy it.
At this point, Nebula is the female character with the strongest, clearest arc, and she deserves to continue to thrive. While I doubt she’ll join the Avengers, I’d love to see her team up with Thor, or Valkyrie, or Carol. I want to see her get more screen time with Rhodey, who she developed a bond with in Endgame. She might never be an Avenger, but I want to see her get to continue to be a hero. No dramatic death scenes.
Most importantly, she deserves to have Gamora back. Nebula loves her sister more than anything else, and while Gamora will most likely get a happy ending with the Guardians, this happy ending should also include the two sisters being a family together. They’ve both lost enough; they don’t need to lose each other.
Nebula has gone through a lot, and it’s time for her to get her happy ending and some more badass stories. Karen Gillan wants to direct a Marvel movie, so why not let her direct a Nebula standalone? Or, if not, let Nebula continue to thrive and grow throughout the MCU until her story reaches a natural conclusion. Sometimes, it’s nice to see women overcoming the odds and thriving, and Nebula is no exception.
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