Acclaimed actor Martin Freeman has played several rich and colorful characters on TV and in film, but his understated (and ongoing) role in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU) is precisely the mundane, non-hero this mega-franchise needs.
The MCU is rapidly approaching 20 total films, and the array of characters, plots, settings, and MacGuffins is only getting larger. Marvel, to their credit, has done a tremendous job easing audiences into each of these films and their respective worlds. However, the MCU has become so interconnected and overlapping that new fans might feel a little overwhelmed.
Imagine jumping into the MCU today with Black Panther, another huge film that strives to stand alone but is still very much a cog in the Marvel’s massive machine. Enter Freeman’s ‘everyman’ character, Everett Ross.
An everyman is a blank slate stand-in for the audience, according to TV Tropes. Essentially, a relatable and sometimes incidental character who’s the eyes and ears of everyone sitting in the theater. He (or she) sees the absurdity of a particular situation and attempts to explain what’s happening in simple, human terms — a particularly important service within today’s hyper-complicated sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero movies.
A few great everyman examples from the past 100 years of cinema include: Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), Jimmy Stewart’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Will Smith’s Men in Black (1997). Clearly, there’s a range of possibilities for the everyman (and it’s not isolated to men, there are plenty of women who’ve inhabited these parts too).
The MCU once had its very own everyman: S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg. Coulson appeared in Iron Man I/II, Thor, and The Avengers — where he was killed (sort of) by Loki; it’s a long story. Coulson connected the dots in those early MCU films, he brought the crazy action and colorful costumes back down to earth with his quiet approach and calm demeanor.
Coulson’s loss was felt in the intervening years, as the MCU expanded and deepened. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury was a bridge between many of these films too, but he was a more central and confrontational player, whose presence often drove each movie’s plot. Coulson, by contrast, was the glue between the heroes and the world around them — he was invaluable in this role, but these movies probably could have survived without him.
Captain America: Civil War (2016) was another sprawling film with tons of new characters, including multiple villains and lots of hero-on-hero conflict. An everyman was desperately needed here, and Freeman’s Ross fit the bill nicely. He debuted as a somewhat generic U.S. government official, where he was pursuing an international terrorist conspiracy, which linked everyone together. And most recently, Ross returned in Marvel’s Black Panther, in an expanded role, but still very much the everyman.
Freeman talks about Ross’ importance to the MCU, in an interview with Den of Geek:
Ross is still, he’s like Americans. 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. So when you see his mind being blown, then yeah, he’s a sort of surrogate, I guess.”
Turns out, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Freeman’s Ross either:
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.”
So, it’s pretty clear that Ross is the new MCU everyman, and is slated to return in one or more future MCU movies (although he’s not currently listed in the credits for either Avengers: Infinity War or Ant-Man and the Wasp). Regardless of where he does turn up, he’d be wise to avoid Loki, just to be safe.