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The Marvel Cinematic Universe is firing on all cylinders, and with Avengers: Endgame set to conclude a 22-film series and open up numerous possibilities for future films, there’s little doubt that Marvel’s reign will continue. With Endgame comes the expectation of having to say goodbye to some old favorites who have been with us for what’s going on 11 years. While the fates of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’ Captain American, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk are unknown, Marvel has no shortage of star power at its disposal for future installments, star power that only seems likely to grow given the recent casting discussions surrounding The Eternals and Black Widow. Curiously though, Marvel Studios has yet to take advantage of its biggest star and one of the MCU’s OGs: Samuel L. Jackson.
Between the films, post-credit scenes and television series, Jackson’s Nick Fury has been a near constant presence in the MCU, showing up in Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), The Avengers (2012), Agents of SHIELD (2013), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Captain Marvel (2019). He’s also set to return in Spider-Man: Far From Home in July. In his role as SHIELD director and the brains behind The Avengers Initiative, Fury has played the role of both morally murky superspy and mentor figure, but throughout all of these appearances, we’ve only gotten brief glimpses into how Nick Fury became the world’s leading intelligence operative. We know that he served in the U.S. Army, working his way up to the rank of Colonel, later worked for the CIA during the Cold War in the 1970s, and eventually joined SHIELD in the 1980s. Captain Marvel gives us our first good look at a younger Nick Fury, and shows us his first encounter with aliens and the story behind how he lost his eye. But Fury’s past still largely remains a mystery, and in terms of his time with SHIELD, 1980 to 1995 is a significant chunk of time that’s been left wide open, enough time to easily fit a Nick Fury film trilogy.
The MCU’s Nick Fury, in terms of both appearance and demeanor is based on the character in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates (2002), an alternate universe take on the Avengers. Marvel Comics later incorporated Jackson’s Fury in its main continuity with the African-American character Marcus Johnson, who discovers he’s the son of the original Nick Fury, and is thus renamed Nick Fury Jr. The MCU’s Nick Fury, his role already solidified, doesn’t need to be overcomplicated by hailing from an alternate universe or being the son of an older Nick Fury, or any of the other muddled explanations fans have dreamt up over the years in an attempt to create a means for the cigar-chomping, white Nick Fury to appear in the MCU. Jackson’s Nick Fury is the MCU’s only Nick Fury, but that doesn’t mean his onscreen exploits can’t borrow from those of his white counterpart.
Marvel Studios will play the spy game next year with Cate Shortland’s Black Widow, which is expected to be a prequel to her appearance in Iron Man 2, but just as the studio has found success with more than one costumed hero, it can surely find success with more than one spy franchise. There’s no better source material for a Nick Fury franchise than Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. Steranko took over the Fury-starring title, Strange Tales with No. 155 (1967), and later briefly wrote and drew the character’s solo book in 1968. Though he wrote the first five issues of the series, and drew four, Steranko’s work on Nick Fury is considered revolutionary, and the book is known for his psychedelic pop artwork and full-page spreads. Under Steranko, Fury became more than a war hero, but a cool, high-tech American James Bond whose stories oozed pulp sci-fi and sexuality. Steranko also gave Fury his own cast of supporting characters, including Howling Commando turned SHIELD Agent Dum Dum Dugan, and a second-in-command and love interest with one of the greatest comic book names of all time: Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine. While HYDRA remained an ever-present threat to Fury and SHIELD, Steranko also gave Fury a new nemesis in the form of Scorpio, an assassin and member of the Zodiac Cartel who sought the powerful weapon, the Zodiac key. Scorpio was ultimately revealed to be Nick Fury’s brother Jake Fury.
A Nick Fury film could easily borrow from those plot elements and move the timeline up from the late ’60s to the early ’80s. While Steranko’s run also previously served as the basis of the 1998 TV movie, Nick Fury: Agent of Shield, starring David Hasselhoff, well…let’s just say the chances of making better use of the source material are pretty high. While Bond comparisons go hand in hand with any spy flick, Marvel Studios’ Nick Fury could utilize Steranko’s visuals and those classic blue and white SHIELD costumes on film and create something entirely different from both the stylish classic Bond films and the more grounded spy films of today. Imagine what a filmmaker like Barry Jenkins, who recently expressed interest in helming a big genre film, could do with a Nick Fury film.
In terms of fitting into the larger MCU, the ’80s setting provides an opportunity to find Fury recruited from the army by SHIELD, or more specifically Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough) and Gabe Jones (Derek Luke) to take down the Zodiac Cartel. But can Samuel L. Jackson pull off a version of the character in his 30s? With Marvel’s de-aging technology, and the fact that Jackson don’t crack, I could certainly buy the 70-year-old Jackson playing a guy in his 30s. Maybe just get someone else to do those major stunts.
After being recruited by familiar faces from Captain America: The First Avenger, Fury would find himself teaming up with classic SHIELD characters from Steranko’s run like Jimmy Woo, who could be the father of Randall Park’s Jimmy Woo from Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), and gadget technician Sidney Levine. Imagine Daniel Wu and David Krumholtz filling in those respective roles. And of course, Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine would be central to the story, and put Fury through the emotional wringer. As for her casting, Alicia Keys, who proved she knows her way around a gun in Smokin’ Aces (2006), would be an inspired choice. That just leaves the threat of Scorpio, Jake Fury. For that role, it has to be filled by someone who could go toe-to-toe with Jackson and convincingly play his brother. Trevante Rhodes could easily pull off the charm and menace to play the lesser-known Fury. That sounds like a lineup for a guaranteed blockbuster.
Marvel Studios couldn’t go wrong with a film featuring its biggest star playing one of Marvel Comics’ most classic characters, and adapting a story that stands out as one of the most influential in the medium. Marvel may be preparing to bid farewell to some of its most powerful heroes, but Nick Fury, through a life that feels like it’s just beginning to be uncovered, may be the MCU’s most powerful asset yet to be fully untapped.
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