Martin Freeman will return to the MCU in a critical function.
The last time we saw Martin Freeman’s Everett K. Ross, in Captain America: Civil War, he was ineffectually threatening that film’s big bad with a terrifying lack of toilet privileges. Ross was a feckless G-man, a tagalong agent desperate to stand tall next to Iron Man and Black Widow. He was a puppy nuzzling up against his masters, and while he was a familiar face for the audiences, he was no one’s preferred comic book set dressing.
In Black Panther, Ross begins the film as that secret agent swimming beyond his depths, but after Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) punch a one-way ticket to Wakanda through his spine, Freeman’s potential role in the MCU alters. Maybe he’s not simply the other “Tolkien white guy” of the story? Could Ross actually be the Felix Leitner to T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) James Bond? Better yet, is he the new Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg)?
During a conversation between Freeman and Den of Geek, the interviewer Don Kaye mentions how Ross is reminiscent of the role Coulson played early on in the Phase One films. Freeman’s response relates Ross as an audience surrogate:
“He’s like America and the West. Whatever color you are, he’s still kind of your eyes and ears in Wakanda because no one’s been to Wakanda. He’s taking you into this other world. If you’re in a cinema in the Western world, you are sort of having the same reaction that Ross is having because we don’t know Wakanda and all our minds would be blown by that.”
Looking back at Iron Man and Iron Man 2 as well as the first Thor film, Coulson was certainly a little more nonplussed when dealing with Tony Stark’s technological wizardry or Asgard’s unstoppable Destroyer, but his wry wit came as a result with many years associated as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. He saw things that would make the sternest black-ops assassin blush. Until the moment Loki put his scepter through Coulson’s back, Clark Gregg was this friendly thread that weaved through the franchise’s canvas. He was there to remind you that there was a greater world out there, and a nastier cataclysmic threat to accompany it.
Coulson is dead. I don’t care what you say about the ABC television show. Joss Whedon killed him. He has not returned to the movies, and I don’t think he ever will. I treat Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as an elseworlds adventure, a fringe universe where we don’t have to cry over his untimely demise. I’m pretty sure that’s also Kevin Feige’s stance since Marvel’s film division and television division split.
One of Black Panther’s greatest strengths is how it was allowed to tell its story without being bogged down in the build-up towards Avengers: Infinity War. That seems to be the Marvel strategy with their solo films, or at least their introductory solo films. That being said, the joy of this whole shared universe experience is the massive mythology that Marvel is assembling. Carrying over Freeman’s Ross from Civil War to Black Panther offers you the opportunity to reassess his scenes from the previous movie. He’s not just the child wearing floaties to swim with the big kids.
Samuel L. Jackson is probably too damn expensive for Nick Fury to be popping up in every other MCU entry. The price is right for Freeman to take over that connective tissue. As he states in that same Den of Geek interview:
“They introduced me in ‘Civil War’ and said there would be a couple of other films, one of which was ‘Black Panther.’ So that was always on the cards. And I knew I’d have more to do in ‘Black Panther’ than I had to do in ‘Civil War.’ That was very much just the kind of introduction to who Ross was.”
What we see in Black Panther is a CIA agent who has his world opened up. Hanging out with super soldiers and playboy billionaires is one thing, but Wakanda exposes Ross to possibilities he once thought of as fantasy. It also ignites him to take action. Stepping into Shuri’s (Letitia Wright) flight simulator, Ross joins the fight against Killmonger. He blasts a few faceless pilots, saves the world from a potentially tragic mishandling of Virbranium, and frees himself from being a simple cog for the United States.
Ross now has a cause. We see a G-man who is more than just a suit. We’ve caught a small glimpse of Ross’s humanity (and the fruits of his military training), and the idea of him furthering his character in future films is appealing. He’ll never be as rad as the Black Panther himself, or Shuri, or Okoye (Danai Gurira), or Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), but he can fill Agent Coulson’s shoes for sure.