Guardians of the Galaxy: The NEBULA Reaction

Karen Gillan as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Karen Gillan as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – The 10th Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie – Directed by James Gunn – Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Glenn Close, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Alex Denisof, Ophelia Lovibond, Peter Serafinowicz, Gregg Henry, Laura Haddock, Alex Denisof, Josh Brolin, Lloyd Kaufman, Nathan Fillion, Rob Zombie, Seth Green, and Stan Lee.

Welcome to a series of specific, character-based reactions to the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movie. You can read the review of the GUARDIANS movie here, and you can read all of my superhero movie reviews (and the specific character reactions to Marvel’s The Avengers) right here.

“This is one fight you won’t win.” – Nebula to Ronan

Karen Gillan’s Nebula is a simply drawn but effectively rendered villainous sidekick in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY that raises the question of whether I wanted to see more of her or whether we needed to see more of her.

To be sure, I found her character lacking in depth, but I also feel like we got everything we needed to see to understand the character and we were left with the promise of seeing her again, where she will hopefully continue to be developed as the dark side of Gamora. I don’t think any additional scenes would have given us a greater insight into her character, though we certainly could have seen a greater depth to the motivations on display.

To wit: Nebula is the adopted daughter of Thanos, and has been augmented by the Mad Titan with mechanical body parts, and trained as an assassin. Her back story is similar to that of Gamora, yet Nebula has developed a deep jealousy for her adopted sister, even though they share a dislike of Thanos. Where Gamora decides to betray Thanos by stealing the Infinity Stone he covets and turning it over to the Nova Corps for safekeeping, Nebula wants to steal it for Ronan in the hopes that he will murder Thanos.

Do we need more than that? Or do we want more than that?

While I would be in complete favor of seeing more of Nebula in GUARDIANS, I think we get all we need to understand her motivations and enjoy what she brings to the movie: she’s a bad-ass, super hot, cyborg assassin with daddy issues and sister issues. If these attributes are under-developed or explored in the movie (and I think the sister issue is), there is also no doubting that these are Nebula’s defining characteristics about them, as she makes each of them perfectly clear for the audience to understand. Not every character in a movie this big is going to get fully explored on screen, and having a sharply defined minor character is a good way to balance that off.

We meet Nebula after Korath (Djimon Hounsou) has failed to acquire the orb that we later learn contains the Infinity Stone. Her and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) stand on opposing sides of Ronan’s throne, and Ronan (Lee Pace) orders Nebula to go after Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and retrieve it, but her sister orb-blocks her and convinces Ronan to give her the first shot at going to Xandar to get it. It’s a clever play on her part, and I’ll discuss that more in Gamora’s Reaction, but for Nebula it’s a painful demotion. Her blue skin and cyborg appearance put her at a disadvantage on Xandar; she’s not Kree (at least, she’s not in the comics – she’s Luphomoid), but anyone with blue skin who could pass as Kree is going to draw attention on the homeworld of Kree’s long-standing enemy.

There is surely more to her jealousy of Gamora than Ronan changing his mind here, but this scene symbolizes it well. Nebula is clearly interested in the hierarchy of their relative standing with Ronan, as she steps in to rebuke Gamora for attempting to take her place. “Ronan has already said,” she starts to say, when Ronan cuts her off, sharply putting her back in line with an admonition to not speak for him.

While it doesn’t justify being a homicidal assassin, of course, you can see how this scene would upset Nebula. What she surely saw as being in Ronan’s favored position is turned upside down, first by the sister she is jealous of and then by the man whose favor she covets.

Karen Gillan as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Karen Gillan as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s interesting to me that Nebula has almost no relationship with Korath, and I wonder if that’s because she sees him as an inferior or because he’s a dude.

Ronan gets called to the principal’s office that is Thanos’ collection of rocks, and the Titan reads Ronan the riot act. While this is happening, Nebula is sitting off to the side, doing repairs on her cybernetic lower arm. When the two villains are done their chair, Nebula hops down, gives a snide, “Thanks, dad,” and tells Ronan that he needs to walk away, because “this is one fight you won’t win.”

There’s a confidence to her interaction with Ronan here that we don’t see elsewhere. It’s another sign Nebula is keenly attuned to hierarchy; she knows this is likely the only place in the universe where she has a higher standing than Ronan, and she’s going to let him know it. What’s fascinating is not that she uses this to diminish Ronan; instead, Nebula slings attitude at her father as cover for Ronan, and then tells him to follow along when she leaves. She’s protected him, but she’s done it not to usurp Ronan but to strengthen her position at his side.

When Ronan descends on Knowhere, it’s Nebula who leads the attack to get the orb from Gamora. It’s a ship battle, so there’s not much direct personal interaction, but Nebula does manage to blow up Gamora’s ship and retrieve the orb, which sets up their one-on-one fight later in the film. I think this sequence unnecessarily protects Gamora a bit – she’s in a clearly inferior ship that has no weapons so it’s not a resounding victory for Nebula in any way but the outcome. It gives her a victory and puts her in a better position with Ronan that anyone, but I’d rather have seen Nebula win the orb in hand-to-hand combat; it would have made her look more bad-ass and would have done a better job selling Gamora’s appeal to her sister later in the film.

Ronan takes control of the Infinity Stone and then talks to Thanos on their interstellar walk projection phone, telling Thanos he’s coming to kill him. The look of open lust on Nebula’s face during this sequence gives her pledge to help him kill her father a real charge.

When Ronan’s ship, The Dark Aster, descends into the Xandarian atmosphere and is subsequently attacked by the Ravagers, Nebula clearly asserts her position as the second most important person on the ship. She openly questions Ronan and gives orders to his shock troops, the Sakaarans. Nebula goes after Gamora and the Guardians, and in the middle of a threat, she takes a missile head on from Drax’s rocket launcher, which allows us to to see the full effects of her cyborg upgrades, as she sets and resets her broken body until she is once again whole.

We finally get to see the one-on-one between the Thanos-abused “sisters,” and it’s a good, solid fight that ends with Nebula hanging off the side of the Aster, and cutting off a cyborg hand to fall into the battle. She lands on a Ravagers’ ship, tosses the pilot to his death, and climbs inside, departing the battle for space.

In the film, this moment is quickly executed and forgotten about just as fast. There’s no follow-up, which is too bad in the short term but in the long run gives some mystery to Nebula’s character. Why leave when she was so devoted to Ronan? Did she decided to half-take Gamora’s advice to join her side? We know from earlier in the scene with Thanos that Nebula knows when to cut one’s losses. We also know she hates her sister, so does she leave because she realizes Ronan is going to lose this battle or because she’s lost her battle?

Given that Ronan still has the Infinity Stone at this point, I think Nebula’s exit is either due to the shame at her own personal loss, or because Gamora’s plea has, on some level, reached Nebula. Perhaps she’s realized she’s hitched her ride to the wrong horse, after all.

My guess is we’ll see Nebula, again, and I’ll be glad when we do.


The Complete Box of GUARDIANS Reactions

1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: Ain’t No Thing Like Me Except Me
2. GOTG: The YONDU Reaction
3. GOTG: The NEBULA Reaction
4. GOTG: The KORATH Reaction
5. GOTG: The GROOT Reaction
6. GOTG: The CORPSMAN DEY Reaction
7. GOTG: The NOVA PRIME Reaction
8. GOTG: The RONAN Reaction
9. GOTG: The DRAX Reaction
10. GOTG: The COLLECTOR Reaction
11. GOTG: The GAMORA Reaction
12. GOTG: The STAR-LORD Reaction
13. GOTG: The ROCKET Reaction


And hey, if this wasn’t enough words from me to you, my latest GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC collection, ABSINTHE & STEAM, is out. I’d be much obliged if you gave it a look.

Gunfighter Gothic Volume 2: Absinthe & Steam.

One thought on “Guardians of the Galaxy: The NEBULA Reaction

  1. Nice write-up Mark.

    Just a couple things I figured it was worth bringing up that I think I sort of took a little differently than you have.

    I thought that her warning Ronan was to try to keep him from attacking Thanos himself after he summarily executed The Other and started making demands of the Mad Titan. To me it seemed like she was trying to cool him down a little and remind him that the big Purple guy murders planets as a hobby.

    And the “Thanks Dad,” to me came off as a sarcastic response to standing right there while being told that Gamora is his favorite daughter, further reminding Nebula of her lower status immediately before sending her off to work with Ronan.

    As far as getting more Nebula, and more depth in her relationships with both her adopted sister and father, you should check out the two Guardians of the Galaxy preview comics that Marvel put out at the beginning of Summer. One is a fun Rocket and Groot story, the other provides some good background on Gamora and Nebula’s upbringing. There’s even a scene in the comic that is mirrored near the end of their fight in the film which gives that scene a little more meaning. Or at least, gives you a better understanding as to why she made the choices she did.


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