So let’s get my hot take out of the way: Nebula is the best character from Guardians Of The Galaxy.
Sure, Star-Lord is hilarious, Gamora is a bad ass, Groot, Drax, Mantis are all different combinations of the two and Rocket… well, he’s a talking raccoon that enjoys killing people…. like a lot of people. (Come to think of it, he’s got some serious anger management issues.)
Anyway, when it comes to story arc and overall character development though? It’s hard to argue that Nebula hasn’t come the furthest since her introduction. From being a henchwoman in the first Guardians, trying to kill her sister Gamora and resolving their issues in Vol. 2, fighting alongside the heroes in Infinity War and End Game, she’s definitely come a long way.
It’s even more obvious when she faces her 2014 self in the last film too. Killing this Nebula from another timeline, she quite literally faces down her past and leaves it behind. It’s a powerful statement about the character moving forward. Not only that, it showed the consequences of making the wrong choice and how easy it is to do so.
Still, in a movie with so many iconic moments like Captain America wielding Thor’s hammer, Iron Man’s snap, the reveal of Professor Hulk and America’s ass, it also contains the moment that Nebula really hit home for me. It’s only a few seconds and was probably dismissed by many people however.
“I wasn’t always like this.”
After grabbing the power stone from behind a force field, turning her metal parts red and exposing her skeletal looking hand, this is what she says to War Machine, another character who relies heavily on technology to survive.
It’s such a short moment that shows so much of what Nebula has been through.
From years of psychological abuse, having her body broken down and reconstructed, she’s managed to carve her own path… but still feels ashamed of who she is. That’s when it all finally clicked for me in a way that it hadn’t before.
Nebula’s driving force wasn’t pure evil. She was deeply damaged to the point where she couldn’t care for anyone — including herself.
Of course, we first get a glimpse of this in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 when the Gamora/Nebula dynamic gets turned on its head. In Gamora’s eyes, the goal was always to be the best whereas Nebula’s deep seeded anger and resentment came from the other side of that conflict.
Gamora’s need to win at all costs made Nebula’s life a living hell. It led to her being tortured, mutilated and reconstructed by Thanos, taking more humanity away each time. Despite this, Nebula still wasn’t good enough for him. When she needed Gamora to be a sister, Gamora was more concerned with competing — she didn’t even realize what her victories forced Nebula to endure.
All of this makes it even more tragic when you see how 2014 Nebula dies in End Game. She had an awful life of suffering with no relief. Only abuse and anger with no redemption like the Nebula we get to know through her story arc.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the character in this film is her interactions with everyone else though. As a disabled person who hasn’t always been blind, the moment between her and War Machine is particularly poignant to me. Rhody doesn’t respond to Nebula’s shame with pity or disgust. As someone who’s paralyzed from the waist down and uses high tech prosthetics to walk, he simply returns her comment by saying, “Hey, we work with what we’ve got, right?”
Others in the movie don’t treat her like a freak either. Sure, Tony Stark calls her the “Big Blue Meanie” at the start of the film, but showing them playing a game while stranded conveys their normal interactions. Nebula takes care of Stark after he falls asleep and further shows her own humanity after landing and holding Rocket’s hand to mourn their losses together. It’s another quiet moment that shows so much of her growth through such a small action.
If you’d told me that Nebula would become one of my favourite characters after the first Guardians film, I would’ve called you crazy. Now though? It’s empowering to know the MCU has someone whose strength is interpreted this way. Being perfect isn’t what defines her, it’s that Nebula has enough character and determination to overcome whatever perceived flaws some may believe she has — including herself. Having everyone else treat her as an equal, showing there’s no need to be ashamed of who she is, only adds to what makes Nebula so great.
It’s a strong message for those who have a disability and think it makes them less than human too.