The moment Marvel Studios changed the superhero-movie game can be traced back to one specific postcredits scene in 2008’s Iron Man. It’s a quick little blink-and-you-miss-it moment, but it’s impact is still being felt to this day. In the scene, Tony Stark returns home to his bangin’ pad only to find a stranger lurking in the shadows. As the stranger steps forward, it’s revealed to be Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D., played by none other than Samuel L. Jackson. He only has two lines, but those two lines introduced the world to a whole new way of making movies, Marvel Studios style.
Since Iron Man, Jackson’s Nick Fury has appeared in five more Marvel Studios movies (Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier), as well as the related TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He brings a certain amount of swagger to the Marvel movieverse, shouting directives at the various superheroes he’s recruited for his Avengers Initiative, but for the most part he’s remained in the shadows, assisting the Avengers in their big, action-packed endeavors. Sure, he’s managed more than a few great one-liners as his presence has grown with each new film, but fact is Nick Fury hasn’t been given much to do. He’s just sort of there, being cool and whatnot.
But then Captain America: The Winter Soldier slammed its cards on the table, revealing Nick Fury’s biggest and baddest appearance to date. There’s a lot going on in the Captain America sequel, including a much larger role for Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and some real punchy soul-searching on the part of Cap (Chris Evans) himself, but in my opinion the movie’s greatest strength is that it also delivers a pretty slick Nick Fury origin story, albeit one that doesn’t fill in all the gaps, but still tells us more about the man behind the eye patch.
We’re served some bites of Fury’s past, like this anecdote about his grandfather in an elevator that makes Fury feel more like a real guy with a real life versus the militant stranger we’ve seen in previous movies. This guy exists. This guy bleeds. This guy fights back using whatever he has at his disposal. His greatest scene in the movie is also one of the best action sequences of the entire Marvel Studios run, a deliriously thrilling car chase through the streets of Washington D.C. that’s brutal and violent, and reveals just how mighty Nicholas J. Fury really is. It’s his scene to own, too, and Jackson is tremendous in it, utilizing every nook and cranny of this character to fight for his life as his car (and career) crash through the capital. For a few minutes, Nick Fury becomes the James Bond-like action hero we’ve been waiting to cheer on for six movies.
It is, hands down, his greatest Marvel moment yet, and it changes Fury in a way we haven’t seen. It weakens him; humanizes him. For the first time, Nick Fury is a man instead of this enigma. When everything he’s fought so hard to protect begins to crumble, so does this wall between the audience and a character they’ve never quite been able to figure out. Finally, Nick Fury removes the eye patch he’s always hid behind (literally and figuratively), and in doing so allows us to invest in a way we never knew how to.
That’s why Captain America: The Winter Soldier ultimately feels like Nick Fury’s movie. He’s the one we care the most about, and it’s his scenes that serve the strongest emotional impact, both from a story and character perspective. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of meaty Captain America moments too, most notably his attempts to nurture new friendships as old ones come back to haunt him in destructive ways. We get lots of S.H.I.E.L.D. backstory and an extra dose of Black Widow, not to mention a terrific Marvel debut from Anthony Mackie, who plays Falcon.
But for me the highlight of the movie is Nick Fury. It was great getting to know him more after all these years.
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