Disclaimer: This piece contains spoilers from Captain Marvel.
The Nicholas Joseph Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) that we become acquainted with in Captain Marvel is not the same man we have gotten to know over the last 11 years of Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Not only is he fantastically digitally de-aged — and has both eyes — but he is much more lighthearted than the spymaster of the modern era. He laughs at his own jokes and finds himself surprised when confronted with aliens impersonating his coworkers or shooting proton beams out of their hands. Interestingly, his sense of humor in Captain Marvel is actually no different than in any other MCU movies, he just hasn’t learned the trademark deadpan delivery yet.
In an interview with Jackson about the young Nick Fury at ScreenRant, the actor describes his character thus:
“He’s not world-weary, and he’s not as paranoid as he is, that we know him to be. And he’s not as manipulative. In his, ‘People are keeping stuff away from us, but I know things they don’t know, too.’ So, that chip’s not on his shoulder yet.”
The modern Nick Fury is indeed more world-weary. He is not surprised when aliens show up on Earth again; in fact, he seems to expect it. When Thor shows up in New Mexico (Thor) or the Chitauri invade New York City (The Avengers), S.H.I.E.L.D. has protocols in place to try and deal with those threats. In fact, Fury arguably goes too far trying to protect the world from these threats when his Tesseract project draws the attention of Loki (and Thanos) to Earth, and Project Insight is hijacked by HYDRA to try and rule the world. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) aptly points out that Project Insight is no more than an attempt to rule by fear, and that punishment must come after a crime. “We can’t wait that long,” Fury replies.
His experience in Captain Marvel opens his eyes to extraterrestrial threats. His first encounter with alien life is hardly benign as he sees fellow agents flawlessly impersonated, spacecraft that could level the planet, and armies of powerful celestial warriors. It’s enough to make anyone paranoid.
Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) may have been the first superhero Fury ever met, and she certainly made an impression. Fury has been a soldier and a spy. Carol is something else. A soldier, yes, but also a superhero. At the same time that he is introduced to the extended population of the galaxy, she shows him that it is possible for humans to possess the power and resolve to go toe-to-toe with intergalactic soldiers.
Jackson told Collider about the character:
“He’s not burdened by the weight of the world the way he is and he hadn’t come to resent the powers that be in terms of how they view the world and how they view what he does and the seriousness of the situation. They’re totally unaware of it right now. So his next challenge is convincing them that we do need to enlist people who have extraordinary gifts that can help us defend not just the country but the world.”
Despite all that he has seen, at the end of Captain Marvel, he puts on paper the first words that will become the Avengers Initiative. Fury poses the program as an alternative to Tesseract-fueled weaponry in The Avengers. Soldiers rather than weapons. It’s not easy to put your faith in people, especially when you’ve seen as much as the former head of S.H.I.E.L.D. has. This initiative does not seem in line with the hardened cynic we see in modern Nick Fury but rather takes a page out of Captain America’s book by believing in the power of people to do the right thing. To stand up and fight against tyranny. To be heroes.
And just as Cap is proven right in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when S.H.I.E.L.D. agents rise up to resist HYDRA, Fury is proven right again and again when the Avengers take a stand to protect the Earth. Despite claiming to trust no one, he puts his faith in these heroes to be what we need in times of crisis. So maybe he is not quite the cynic he thinks himself to be. Perhaps Nick Fury is secretly an optimist.
For more about this new release, check out our recent series of Captain Marvel posts: