WARNING: The following article contains minor spoilers for Marvel's Black Panther, in theaters now.
Many people have left their mark on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some behind the camera and others on screen. But one performance that may not have immediately drawn your attention is that of Martin Freeman as Everett Ross in 2016's Captain America: Civil War.
To break down this character, we have to start with writer Christopher Priest’s well-received run on Marvel Comics' Black Panther. In 1998, Priest and artist Mark Texeria launched a new series starring a Black Panther who actually possessed a sense of humor. A lot of that humor was achieved because of the narrator, a U.S. State Department employee turned attache to the Black Panther named Everett K. Ross.
Because the story's events are viewed from Ross' perspective, the audience identifies with someone who also doesn’t know what’s going on. Ross obviously isn't familiar with black culture, and Priest uses that to his advantage. The narrator’s humor, either by what he says or what happens to him, is utilized to poke fun at any stereotypical notions a reader might have about a black superhero.
A lot of things just happen to Ross. For example, he quickly finds himself in his apartment with Mephisto, who gives Ross a never-ending supply of blue jeans.
Later in the series, Ross somehow ends up in charge of governing Wakanda. He's kind of like that friend who keeps failing upward: You don’t know he got the job he has, but you know he’s really lucky. He's also relatable in that he doesn’t tell stories from beginning to end, and goes off on tangents; for a while, he has a hopeless crush on someone way out of his league. You can’t help but feel bad for the guy.
In Captain America: Civil War, we meet the film version of Everett Ross, who's nothing like his comic inspiration. As portrayed by Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit), he's quite serious. His most notable scene is the interrogation of Helmut Zemo. Ross threatens Zemo that if he does anything, he’ll get shocked, and the audiences believes him. That's not how we would react if it were the comics version talking.
By contrast, the Ross of director Ryan Coogler's Black Panther is painted with a sense a humor that’s more akin to the comic book source material. Things happen to Ross, just as in the comics, and he ends up spending some time with the Wakandans. It’s in Wakanda that his personality shines through. If you’ve seen Freeman’s other work, you know he's great at reaction shots, and he doesn’t fail us in Black Panther.
Unlike the comics, the Black Panther film isn’t being told through Ross’ voice: the story is framed through the Wakandans. In fact, most of the film occurs in Wakanda, as one of the messages of the film is whether a technologically advanced country should be obligated to help the less fortunate. Most of the people in the Marvel Universe has no idea that Wakanda isn't a Third World nation, and even fewer have been permitted past its borders. Ross is one of few outsiders allowed inside.
Ross gets to experience some of what Wakanda has to offer, and he offers his help in return. He doesn’t bumble his way through the story like in the comics; he’s shown as actually being proficient in what the Wakandans ask him to do. The movie’s Ross is a solid middle ground between the comic inspiration and the seriousness of Captain America: Civil War. We hope that his time in Wakanda gets him to let his hair down even more in future films.
In theaters now, director Ryan Coogler's Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, Letitia Wright as Shuri, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross, Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue, Winston Duke as M’Baku and Forest Whitaker as Zuri.