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Credit: Marvel Studios

Look of the Week: Nebula's leather jacket journey in Avengers: Endgame

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May 5, 2019

Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!

(Warning: This piece contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, so proceed with caution!)

Nebula’s distinct blue and purple metal veneer was not a personal aesthetic choice or something she was born with. Every time she lost a fight to her adopted sister Gamora, Thanos “upgraded” her body with cybernetic enhancements. Hatred coupled with a desire to please her father figure is a dangerous combination, particularly when her entire being is a reminder of what Thanos did to her. Nebula’s journey from the first Guardians of the Galaxy to Avengers: Endgame has been one of the most rewarding to watch, cutting deep beneath her metal framework.

Detailed spoilers for Avengers: Endgame lie ahead.

Avengers Endgame Nebula and War Machine

Credit: Marvel Studios

Her body is a patchwork and so are the clothes she wears. Her initial eggplant color jumpsuit in Guardians of the Galaxy — designed by Oscar winner Alexandra Byrne — has been switched out for Ravager attire in the Guardians sequel. But thanks to a nifty bit of time travel, Nebula from 2023 and Nebula from 2014's (the year audiences first met her) paths cross and hijinks ensue. Thanos pulls one of the oldest tricks in the time travel book by switching the Nebula that is still loyal to him with the "treacherous" one from the future — and all it takes is borrowing a leather jacket and Nebula’s gold cybernetic head plate to fool everyone back in 2023.

Somehow, no one notices Nebula has a different arm. Even though her sleeve hides a portion, those are still some bad observation skills by these guys. After all, her metal fingers are visible in her white quantum realm suit.  

Avengers: Endgame fists together

Credit: Marvel Studios

In general, Nebula’s go-to style is pretty functional, but that doesn't preclude it from looking cool af. Leather is a protective shield, much like the metal that makes up Nebula’s body. Last week, these two materials were in focus as I discussed the big Game of Thrones battle. And while Nebula’s body and clothing look nothing like Brienne’s or Sansa’s, the link between fantasy and sci-fi sartorial landscapes of the past, present, and future, is undeniable.

Much like her body, Nebula’s clothing has a borrowed sentiment, which is always in a state of repair. A sleeve missing here, a tear there. The leather jacket worn in Endgame is different, as it is a complete garment with suede and textured panels. Despite all the big losses, Nebula has found her place in this team. The jacket as designed by Judianna Makovsky is a natural progression for a Nebula who has been working with the Avengers for five years. Makovsky has also been designing the costumes of this world for a long period; her costume tenure started with Winter Soldier and this is her fifth MCU movie outing.  

Avengers Endgame

Credit: Marvel Studios

Bonds were formed with Tony Stark as they drifted through space when it appeared that all was lost after the snap. To fill the time, Tony taught Nebula how to play paper football. In a moment of empathy, Nebula gave Tony the last of her rations. He gave her the nickname “Blue Meanie,” which is more affectionate than it initially sounds (it comes from the trippy Beatles animation Yellow Submarine). This is one of a number of pop culture nicknames he gives to his cohorts in Endgame — others include Lebowski, Yellow Bastard, Build-a-Bear, and Stuart Little. 

Growth and the ability to change is a big part of Endgame. Altering the present by going back to the past is an element of this, but on a more personal level, these characters face a reckoning of a different kind. Nebula has changed more than most, and not just on a physical level. Infinity War is far from the first time Thanos has ripped her apart (before putting her back together), but unlike the Nebula from 2014, she knows there is way out of this abuse cycle.

Avengers: Infinity Wars character poster - Karen Gillan as Nebula

Credit: Marvel Studios 

The Nebula from the past puts on her counterpart's jacket and the piece of her head to fool the Avengers, but in their final confrontation, it becomes evident how different they are. When they travel back in time to retrieve the stones, Nebula's cybernetic implants interface with her 2014 self, which is how Thanos finds out about the masterplan to undo the snap. Despite seeing Nebula’s memories, she sees no way out of her 2014 situation because “he won’t let [her].” Without experiencing the same growth, Thanos’ power over her is greater than this “stranger's” version of events. By killing her past self, Nebula ensures they can defeat Thanos, while also protecting the person she has become.

Earlier in Endgame, her knowledge of Thanos is used to hunt him down. When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) aims for the neck, Nebula ends up with a face covered in her father’s blood. The trauma levels are high for this character that has been repeatedly pulled apart and put back together again with modifications. Considering she was meant to die in the first Guardians movie, Nebula’s journey from villain to hero is one of the most complex and rewarding. Karen Gillan's performance adds depth and pathos, as well as humor in her deadpan delivery.   

In Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2, her rudimentary claw and tattered outfit were switched out for a Ravager ensemble and a sophisticated arm replacement. These parts of her were not from Thanos, which is the first stage in getting her to a place in which she could beat him.

The jacket upgrade in Endgame with its strapping embellished sleeves gives Nebula a fresh spin on her older ensemble, plus it shows the passing of time when Endgame jumps five years into the future (see both photos above to compare and contrast).

Avengers: Endgame group shot

Credit: Marvel Studios

Rocket gets a new funky red scarf, Hulk now wears athleisure, Natasha is lumped with a terrible ombré — the two-tone colors reflect her emotional state — and Hawkeye’s “dark” makeover is eyebrow-raising for the worst reasons. Nebula doesn’t have any hair, but she does get a new orange cybernetic plate that is part of the whole impersonation plot later in the movie. And while the rest of her is cool blue, purple and silver tones, this flash of warm color underscores how she has changed. Even her new Funko has this updated cybernetic head detail. 

It is hard to tell when Nebula is happy, but she has made deep emotional connections. The makeup also means it is hard for Gillan to be too animated and she jokingly refers to the prosthetics as a “face prison” during an interview with Vanity Fair. This is also evident in the recently released behind-the-scenes shot of the MCU women at a lunch organized by Downey Jr., as Gillan insists she is “smiling on the inside.” I wouldn’t want it any other way from Nebula.

No matter the genre, leather jackets are a costume shorthand for a character who is edgy, tough and no-nonsense. For Nebula, this clothing choice is another form of armor. In Endgame, her asymmetric signature styling is replaced with this complete garment. It still emanates toughness, but it also underscores the self-worth she now has. Sure, this jacket is taken from her and is used as part of Thanos’ scheme, but she still wins in the end.    

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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