This article contains spoilers.
Captain Marvel finally gave us Carol Danvers’ origin story, but in the process of a trip back to the ’90s, we also got an origin story for Nick Fury including giving a divisive answer to the biggest question surrounding one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most-connected character.
As soon as the first photos of Fury and his two perfectly good eyes in Captain Marvel were released, there was always a possibility that we would learn what happened to his left eye that led Fury to cover it with an eyepatch. Something happened, and although Fury’s certainly hinted at what happened in previous MCU films, we never learn exactly what that is until now. (In the comics, Fury initially started to lose vision in his left eye after a grenade explosion.)
Fury survived encounters with the Skrulls, numerous S.H.I.E.L.D. agents under the orders of a disguised Talos, a trip to space in an enhanced quad jet, and the brute of Yon-Rogg’s Kree Star Force. Apart from that scrape to his left eyebrow, he actually goes through most of the film relatively unscathed. But at the end of Captain Marvel, Fury makes one fateful mistake: holding Goose up in the air and trying to get a reaction out of her when she clearly did not want to be held.
And so Goose did what most cats—and as it turns out, flerken as well—would do to get Fury to stop: a swipe with her claws. Fury believes he’ll be fine (or is in complete denial) because he probably thinks it’s just a cat scratch; Talos, who is definitely not a fan of Goose or flerken, knows otherwise. Soon enough, Fury is looking for a potential replacement eyeball to use before he settles on the eyepatch we’re all very familiar with.
On the surface, Captain Marvel does several things. It answers the question of how Fury got the scratch on his face and lost vision in his left eye and that he wasn’t exactly forthcoming with how it happened when those who didn’t witness the attack were curious. (Given that Goose hangs out in Fury’s office at the end of the film and into the second post-credits scene—and that Goose, who does not get along with many humans to begin with, took a shining to Fury in the first place—it’s unlikely that there was much lingering bad blood between the two.) It’s another instance of a film filling in the blanks to a character’s backstory; in execution, it’s a moment that gets laughs. We didn’t necessarily need that piece of information, but we’re not any worse off in the MCU for having it.
But for some Marvel fans, the reveal left them feeling dissatisfied, with it only being part of why Fury’s portrayal in Captain Marvel is one of the more divisive aspects. Some took issue with how Fury was like a buddy sidekick to Danvers’ straight man and how calm he was about learning that aliens existed. Others focused on the smaller aspects of the film like or Fury washing dishes at Maria Rambeau’s house in Louisiana. Even after watching the film, some fans are still asking the same question that they did before seeing it: Why didn’t Fury just page Captain Marvel sooner?
With Goose being the reason that Fury became blind in one eye, critics felt that the reveal came off like a joke or was a disservice to Fury’s character. That after plenty of hints and nods to Fury losing his left eye after a big battle, a deep betrayal, or alien encounter over the course of the MCU, having it be because of a simple cat scratch felt like a slap in the face. Granted, Goose is actually a flerken who has access to an internal pocket dimension that can store an Infinity Stone and releases tentacles without breaking a sweat. But you know, she still looks like a cat.
Honestly? Given what we’ve learned about Fury over the course of 21 Marvel movies and counting, it makes perfect sense that not only would Fury’s injury come from an unlikely source, but also that he wouldn’t ever tell anybody about it.
Nick Fury has a well-crafted public and work persona
One of the more surprising things about Fury in Captain Marvel compared to the rest of the MCU was how easy-going he is in it. Because for 20 MCU films, he’s been an enigma as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury is standoffish, pragmatic, and no-nonsense. He doesn’t trust easily, not even members of his own organization; that became more pronounced after he learned that H.Y.D.R.A. has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s several steps ahead of his allies and is prone to keeping secrets; even two of his closest colleagues, Phil Coulson and Maria Hill, are often kept in the dark.
But in Captain Marvel’s 1995, it’s like we’re seeing an entirely different Fury. He’s several decades younger than we’ve ever seen him, he’s a mid-tier S.H.I.E.L.D. employee instead of running the show, and he’s a lot more easy-going. He laughs and smiles even as several truth bombs are revealed at once: One, that aliens exist; two, that an alien race called Skrulls who can shape-shift into any human have infiltrated Earth; and three, they’re at war with another alien race known as the Kree. He’s even wearing much more color than we’re used to seeing after several movies of all-black get-ups.
The same Fury who is often cold to the Avengers on missions has been through some shit, but he’s also shown a softer side. He kept Hawkeye’s family off the grid while Hawkeye worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. He took a chance on Natasha Romanoff and made sure that Captain America’s transition to present-day wasn’t as much of a culture shock as it could’ve been. Really, he took a chance on most of the Avengers; you could say he even cares for them, in his own way. And it makes perfect sense that someone as outwardly prickly like Fury would be a cat person.
But while he and Danvers were on somewhat more equal footing as unlikely allies and even friends, he doesn’t have that relationship with the rest of the Avengers. He’s a boss of sorts (albeit in an unofficial capacity) while they’re all at the subordinate level. Even with all of the mistrust, his relationship with them will be vastly different. He’s going to be mysterious and keep his cards to himself. He didn’t become the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.—and being in a position to experiment on the Tesseract—by being a happy-go-lucky kind of guy around the people he worked with.
You can also argue Fury’s more closed-off nature is because of what he experienced in Captain Marvel, and not just because he was scratched in the face by Goose. He witnessed an alien takeover where one half of the fight could take the form of any human and access information about their life. Why would he give any of his colleagues information when there could be spies in his midst well before he learned about H.Y.D.R.A.? Plus, it’s the kind of question he can ask Danvers herself when she returns to Earth to prove her identity because she was one of the few people to witness it.
Nick Fury is a master manipulator—and a proven liar
We already know that Fury isn’t exactly forthcoming with information. He never told any of the Avengers about Captain Marvel or the pager he had to contact her, which made her arrival all the more shocking. It gives him the upper hand, keeps everyone on edge, and works any of that confusion to his advantage. It’s how he operates, and even though it leads you to question everything he’s said, Fury is someone you want on your side.
Just look at The Avengers. The moment when the original six Avengers—Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, and Black Widow—come together as one united front against Loki and the Chitauri army is a powerful one. It wouldn’t have happened without Fury giving one final push. Reasoning with them didn’t work, and neither did putting them together in the same room. But what did? The death of Phil Coulson.
Fury never planned for Coulson, who he called his “one good eye,” to die on the quinjet. But he did use the situation to his advantage by taking Coulson’s Captain America trading cards (which were originally in Coulson’s locker) and telling Tony Stark and Steve Rogers that he found the bloody cards in Coulson’s jacket. Maria Hill called him out on it, but hey, it worked.
Before Captain Marvel, the most we knew about what happened came in The Winter Soldier. Steve Rogers wasn’t happy about Project Insight, a controversial plan to up national security after the Battle of New York that H.Y.D.R.A. attempted to use to take out its enemies, as Fury pushed for it.
“Last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye,” Fury says to Steve Rogers.
You can look at this two ways. One, Fury is lying. He’s trying to appeal to Steve by offering up a piece of himself, even if it’s ultimately untrue. He’s trying to get Steve on board with Project Insight.
Or, Fury is telling the truth. He trusted Goose in all of her flerken glory and she betrayed him with a scratch. As many cat owners can tell you, cats go from playful to “get the fuck away from me” at a moment’s notice—and when they do, the inevitable betrayal from the pain that ensues is all too real.
Plus, this isn’t the first time we’re faced with a character in a superhero film not being honest about their origin story. In more recent films, just look at the Joker in The Dark Knight, who tells multiple stories about how he got the scars on his face. Curiously, fanboys didn’t seem to mind too much about it at all.
Lying about how he lost his eye created (or at least boosted) the myth of Nick Fury
In Fury’s final scene in Captain Marvel, Coulson arrives in Fury’s office with a box full of glass eyes. Coulson, who knew more about Danvers, the Skrulls, and the Kree than most, approached the topic of what happened.
“So is it true?” Coulson asked. “That the Kree burned your eye out because you refused to give them the Tesseract?”
“I will neither confirm nor deny the facts of that story,” Fury replied.
Fury could’ve told Coulson the truth, or at least debunked it; Fury and Coulson trust each other, so he knew that Coulson wouldn’t screw him over and confirming it would be a lie and also nip it in the bud. But instead, by taking a neutral stance, Fury fuels the rumor even further, and it’s possible that he did this for a number of reasons.
If you’re part of S.H.I.E.L.D. long enough, the stories of your accomplishments and battle scars begin to follow you wherever you go; it also happened to Agent Melinda May, who was called “The Cavalry” by colleagues, on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. What people think happened today may be very different from what actually happened, and if Coulson believed that the Kree burned out Fury’s eye in 1995, we can only imagine just how much bigger the story has gotten since then.
Instead of just the Kree who burned out Fury’s eye, it might’ve been the Kree and the Skrulls. Or it was a massive alien army. Or maybe it was behind human enemy lines if the whole Kree-Skrull business remained highly classified. It could be anything! There’s almost no way that Fury would have let him succeed as much as he did if the truth about what happened got out, so you could also argue that he at least partially lied about it from an ego standpoint, because who would take Fury seriously in the MCU back in 1995 if they found out that he was scratched by a cat?
Even if he did tell the truth about his eye, it would lead to a number of questions with highly classified answers; How could a cat scratch do that to a human eye? The claw marks on Fury’s face are bigger than most regular-sized cats can make, which might make people think that Fury is covering something up. If someone were to follow the trail long enough, they could find out what Goose is and what she’s carrying inside of her stomach (until she wasn’t). If Goose and the Tesseract got into the wrong hands before Fury decided to experiment on it, it could’ve been catastrophic for the world. And who knows how much sooner Earth would’ve been in ruins or faced alien invasions after the Skrulls (if it hadn’t already) before the Battle of New York.
If we know only one thing about Fury, it’s that he’s got his own reasons for keeping things from everyone else until it’s time. Even something like what happened to his eye. The fate of the world might have been counting on it.