This article contains massive Captain Marvel spoilers. We have a spoiler free review of the movie here.
While Captain Marvel is thoroughly committed to establishing Carol Danvers and her place in the MCU, it’s also the closest thing to a Nick Fury origin story that Marvel Studios is ever likely to give us. Samuel L. Jackson is digitally de-aged to something roughly resembling his 1995 form to provide backup for Carol during her fish-out-of-water early moments back on Earth, and to serve as a suitably incredulous audience POV character as someone who has yet to encounter a proper superhero, let alone one who is kind of from another planet.
Throughout the movie, we learn details about Fury’s origin. Most of it aligns quite closely with the Nick Fury of the comics. While they do move his timetable forward a few years, all of the elements that make Fury who he is are present and accounted for in Captain Marvel. He achieved the rank of Colonel during the war (presumably Vietnam, as he says he went into the service right out of high school, and we see he was born in 1950), and after doing his combat time, he spent the rest of the cold war as a spy. That’s the same career track as the comic book Nick Fury, who began life as the headliner of a World War II comic called Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos (we’ve met the Howlers in both Captain America: The First Avenger and the still greatly missed Agent Carter) before he returned as Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (where he was indeed a Colonel).
The primary difference here is that the comic book Nick Fury was a product of World War II, where he even occasionally fought alongside Captain America, and his continued vitality in the present day was attributed to “the Infinity Formula.” There’s none of that in the movie, so the MCU Fury just joins the party a little later. Easy enough. The big screen Fury is also inspired more by Marvel’s Ultimate Comics version, the first time the character was portrayed as a black man (and one who was explicitly modeled on Samuel L. Jackson). But other than these little discrepancies, Nick Fury is the Fury we’ve always known and loved.
You see, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the story of how Nick Fury lost his eye had never been revealed until Captain Marvel. It had often appeared to be a sore subject, with Fury once responding that the story was “classified” when asked about it. In the comics, Fury lost that eye in expectedly heroic fashion, while Captain Marvel cooked up a slightly…different…story.
In the early Sgt. Fury comics, Nick still had both of his eyes. It wasn’t until he started appearing in “present day” Marvel continuity (despite being set during World War II, Sgt. Fury was published in the ‘60s) that he was depicted with an eyepatch. Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #27 told how Nick caught some shrapnel from a Nazi grenade, which cost him the sight in his left eye. Keep in mind, the eye is still there, he just obscures the bad eye with his iconic eyepatch. Ultimate Nick Fury lost it during an attack on a convoy (which happened to be transporting Wolverine), and in that version of the story, his eye is completely lost, complete with similar scarring to what we see with MCU Fury.
So which of these tales of heroic self-sacrifice did the MCU choose to go with? Um…neither. Instead, the fan-favorite and unlikely marketing sensation Goose the Cat is the reason Nick Fury has to wear an eyepatch.
Yes, that’s right. For all of Fury’s cat love, Goose wasn’t having it, and took a swipe at Fury’s eye. And whatever other multi-dimensional weirdness that a Flerken might contain, a scratch from his claws is enough to permanently damage Fury’s depth perception. It’s…a rather bold choice, and it seems like the right one in the moment. Like everything else involving Fury and Goose in the movie, it’s funny and unexpected. Nobody ever would have taken an avowed jerk like Fury as someone who loses his mind at the site of a cute kitty, right?
The MCU Fury is notoriously pragmatic, with what some might say is a pessimistic worldview, and who doesn’t always make fan favorite decisions to support the more brightly costumed Marvel heroes at all costs. Playing a historic injury like this for laughs may have robbed Marvel of an opportunity to add some much needed additional depth to Fury. Captain Marvel does an excellent job of presenting Fury for the first time as someone capable of forming real friendships with people he doesn’t give orders to, and his reactions to Goose are about as far from the “shadowy super spy” archetype as one can possibly get. Maybe the idea that what was needed was some good old-fashioned heroic self-sacrifice to complete the picture would be a little too simple in a standalone movie, but for a character whose presence has been felt through multiple movies (and a few TV episodes), some fans might be looking for a more traditional approach.
While Fury’s friendship with Carol throughout the film feels genuine, and their mutual respect is earned on screen, had that injury been sustained in an attempt to protect innocents (whether Skrull or human) or to buy Carol time to complete a part of her mission, Carol’s post-credits “where’s Fury,” might carry even more weight than it already does. The idea of Fury undergoing horrific torture at the hands of the Kree (as Agent Coulson wrongfully speculates) to help others or suffering some kind of betrayal (at the hands of a Kree-sympathizing Skrull double agent?) might temper (and even explain) some of the character’s later, more prickly behavior. Although that might be exactly why he helps feed the mystery about the true nature of his injury.
“The last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye,” Fury said in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Whoever would have guessed that the someone in question was an adorable feline-shaped Flerken named Goose?