|Marvel Cinematic Universe character|
|First appearance||Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)|
|Portrayed by||Karen Gillan|
Nebula is a fictional character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), portrayed by Karen Gillan, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. In the MCU, Thanos killed her family and adopted her as one of his daughters. She and Gamora are trained as mercenaries and develop a bitter rivalry until she becomes a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers.
The character's film adaptation, depicted as undergoing a redemptive story arc from a villain or antihero to a protagonist, has been noted for its difference from the comics' depiction of the character almost exclusively as a villain.
As of 2021[update], Nebula has appeared in four films and will return in the upcoming films Thor: Love and Thunder and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, as well as The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special and the Disney+ animated series What If...?.
Concept and creation
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige first mentioned Guardians of the Galaxy as a potential film at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con International, stating, "There are some obscure titles, too, like Guardians of the Galaxy. I think they've been revamped recently in a fun way in the [comic] book." Feige reiterated that sentiment in a September 2011 issue of Entertainment Weekly, saying, "There's an opportunity to do a big space epic, which Thor sort of hints at, in the cosmic side" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Feige added, should the film be made, it would feature an ensemble of characters, similar to X-Men and The Avengers. Feige announced that the film was in active development at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con International during the Marvel Studios panel, with an intended release date of August 1, 2014. He said the film's titular team would consist of the characters Star-Lord, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Groot, and Rocket. In July 2013, director James Gunn and the film's cast flew from London to attend San Diego Comic-Con International, where it was revealed that Karen Gillan would play Nebula.
In her debut in Guardians of the Galaxy, Nebula is depicted as a loyal lieutenant in the employ of Ronan and Thanos. About the character, Gillan said, "She is the female villain of the film ... She is very sadistic and evil, but I like to think for a very valid reason." She also added, "I think she's a really interesting character. What I like to play around with is how jealous she is. She's Gamora's sister, and there's a lot of sibling rivalry. That's the most interesting aspect to me, because jealousy can consume you and turn you bitter, and ugly. And she's a total sadist, so that's fun too." Gillan researched the ancient Spartans, shaved off her hair, and trained for two months for the role. The character's makeup took approximately four-and-a-half hours to be applied.
In early drafts of the film, the character was planned to be killed off by Gamora, but the directors decided to bring her back in the sequel to further explore the relationship between the two. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Nebula is portrayed as a reluctant member of the Guardians. Gillan stated the film would further explore the sisterly relationship between Nebula and Gamora, including their backstory "and what happened to these two girls growing up and actually how awful it was for them and how it has ruined their relationship", adding "we're [also] going to start to see how much pain [Thanos] actually caused [Nebula]... we really start to see the emotional crack in her character". While Gillan had to shave her head for the first film, she only had to shave half of her head for the sequel, taking away the underneath part and leaving the top. Gillan's makeup took two and a half hours to apply, down from five hours for the first film.
In Avengers: Endgame, after being previously featured as an antagonist or an anti-hero, Nebula undergoes a redemption arc where she makes amends for her past actions, including an encounter with a past version of herself, with Gillan adding that she is "staring her former self in the face and it's really clear how far she's come from that angry, bitter and twisted person. She's starting to connect with other people and find some level of forgiveness." Gillan guessed that Nebula would play a prominent role in the film when she realized that Infinity War and Endgame would be adapted from The Infinity Gauntlet, which she had previously read when she was initially cast as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Gillan shared several scenes with Robert Downey Jr., who portrays Tony Stark, in the film's opening, and the two improvised most of their scenes together.
Fictional character biography
Nebula is one of several children forcibly adopted by Thanos. After he killed her family, she was raised alongside Gamora and trained to be a warrior. Thanos often forced them to fight and Gamora was always victorious. In response, Thanos would have a piece of Nebula replaced with a cybernetic part, transforming her into a cyborg.
Pursuing Thanos and Gamora
In 2014, Thanos dispatched Nebula and Gamora to assist Ronan the Accuser in obtaining the Power Stone. Ronan succeeded and betrayed Thanos, intending to destroy the planet Xandar and kill Thanos. Nebula sided with him against her father. She escaped Xandar when the Guardians of the Galaxy successfully thwarted Ronan's attack. Nebula is later captured by members of the Sovereign race as she tried to steal their powerful batteries; the Sovereign gave her to the Guardians in exchange for their services defending the batteries. When the other Guardians visit the planet of Peter Quill's father, Ego, Nebula helps the Ravagers capture Rocket and Groot. She is given a ship, and goes to Ego herself to fight Gamora. After finally defeating Gamora in combat, Nebula expresses anger at Gamora for always needing to be better than her instead of just being a loving sister. She and Gamora reconcile and ally to fight Ego, ultimately escaping the living planet as it is destroyed. Nebula then resolves to kill Thanos, and leaves with this mission in mind.
Allying with the Avengers
Nebula's attempt to kill Thanos fails, and she is instead captured and tortured. In 2018, Thanos captured Gamora and used Nebula's pain to convince Gamora to reveal the location of the Soul Stone. After Thanos leaves with Gamora, Nebula escaped and took a ship to Titan, where she again attempts to kill Thanos.
Following the death of Gamora at the hands of Thanos, Nebula and Rocket are the only Guardians to survive the Blip, initiated by Thanos using the Infinity Stones. Nebula is then left on Titan with Tony Stark, with all of the others who fought Thanos on Titan having vanished. Nebula and Stark leave Titan in Peter Quill's ship, but appear doomed to languish and die in space until Carol Danvers appears to save them. After reaching Earth, Nebula accompanies the surviving Avengers into space to the Garden to confront Thanos, who is killed by Thor after revealing that the Stones were destroyed, with Nebula asserting that Thanos' words were true.
In 2023, Nebula and the other Avengers time travel to points in the past to retrieve the Infinity Stones and restore those who were eliminated by Thanos. Nebula goes with James Rhodes to the planet Morag in 2014, where they render a past version of Peter Quill unconscious and take the Power Stone. The Nebula of 2014 begins to malfunction due to the presence of the 2023 Nebula, and the Thanos of 2014 thereby becomes aware of the presence of this other Nebula, and has her captured. Thanos sends 2014 Nebula back to the present in the former's place. The Avengers are successful in reversing the Blip, bringing Thanos' victims back to life, but 2014 Nebula summons Thanos to the present, where he destroys the Avengers Compound in order to acquire the Stones to destroy the entire universe. Nebula successfully convinces the 2014 Gamora to join her in opposing Thanos, and kills the 2014 Nebula. Nebula joins the battle against the army of Thanos. Later, Nebula and the restored members of the Guardians of the Galaxy attend the funeral of Tony Stark, who had sacrificed his life to stop Thanos. Nebula and the rest of the Guardians, accompanied by Thor, then return to space.
Differences from the comic books
Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ultimately evolves from a villain to a true hero and a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, while the character in Marvel Comics is depicted almost exclusively as a villain. Another change in the film adaptation from the source material is the character's physical appearance, with the character's MCU depiction as a bald cyborg differing from the comic depiction of the character as an organic humanoid with curled hair. She is not revealed to be related to Gamora in the comics and claimed to be the "granddaughter" of Thanos, which he denies. She also has ambitious villainous goals throughout various publications. She is later interpreted as being a cyborg in the comic book series like in the Nebula (2020) mini-series as being part of her official look in mainstream comic book series currently.
Jacob Stolworthy of The Independent felt that the character had "all the makings of being a vintage Marvel character", but was "slightly short-changed". Miles Surrey of The Ringer, meanwhile, praised the character, saying that "Nebula's internal conflict is one of the most fascinating and compelling threads the MCU has spun over its 20-plus installments" and that the character was "starkly different from virtually everybody in the MCU" as a villain-turned-hero. Richard Newby of The Hollywood Reporter also praised the character's depiction, describing her as "one of the most meaningful considerations of what it means to be both Avenger and human", opining that her story is "one [of] the Marvel Cinematic Universe's best and most empowering myths".
Awards and nominations
|2014||Detroit Film Critics Society||Best Ensemble||Guardians of the Galaxy||Won|||
|Nevada Film Critics Society||Best Ensemble Cast||Guardians of the Galaxy||Won|||
|Phoenix Film Critics Society||Best Cast||Guardians of the Galaxy||Nominated|||
|2015||Central Ohio Film Critics Association||Best Ensemble||Guardians of the Galaxy||Nominated|||
|Empire Awards||Best Female Newcomer||Guardians of the Galaxy||Won|||
|2019||Saturn Awards||Best Supporting Actress||Avengers: Endgame||Nominated|||
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