Could Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman reunite in the Marvel universe?

With Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange imminent, could the Sherlock stars appear on screen together?

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At some point, Disney/Marvel will own all of pop culture. We’re still in the early stages of its inexorable expansion, but already it has absorbed another fandom whole. Sherlock fans can expect to be buying two tickets in the coming years: one to see Martin Freeman play Everett Ross in Captain America: Civil War, and another to see Benedict Cumberbatch star in Doctor Strange.

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Freeman and Cumberbatch have already acted opposite each other in The Hobbit, but one was a CGI dragon at the time. The question is, with the endlessly crisscrossing nature of the Marvel universe, what are the chances of the two meeting up in the flesh?

It all comes down to the nature of Martin Freeman’s character. Everett Ross will first show up in Civil War as a bureaucrat on some sort of superhero oversight committee, placing on the side Iron Man and his government cronies. Doctor Strange won’t play a role in this conflict, and in truth Ross and Strange do not have much history in the comics.

However, Ross does have ties to one member of Iron Man’s team. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is king of the fictional kingdom of Wakanda, and Ross is traditionally the US government representative to the country. Their relationship goes far beyond ambassadorship. In fact, Ross is more or less Panther’s side-kick – a role, as we’ve already pointed out, in which Freeman excels. It’s not too much to expect Ross to play the same role when Black Panther appears in 2018. 

So, how likely are Black Panther and Doctor Strange to crossover? Let’s discount the big Avengers films – they are so chaotic and involve so many characters it’s anyone’s guess. What are the chances of a one-on-one?

Black Panther stories tend to be full of political intrigue – Wakanda is a major player on the world stage, and Panther is one of the smartest operators in the world. Doctor Strange is almost the opposite of realpolitik – his battles with wizards and demons are more surrealpolitik. However, Panther also has his mystical side. Panther’s power comes from a long line of Kings, and this occasionally brings him into conflict in the ethereal realm. And yes, sometimes he brings Ross along with him.

At one point, the demon Mephisto (who is more or less the devil himself) was angling for Panther’s power, and tried to get to him through his buddy Ross.

It involved trousers.

Strange’s main villain is another demon – Dormammu – but Marvel has a way of grouping and simplifying when it comes to the Cinematic Universe. Beyond the specific story, the point is that Strange and Panther could share more business than first appearances would have it, making it increasingly likely that Strange and Ross will run into each other. 

There is also the possibility that Freeman and Cumberbatch might meet outside of Wakanda and Black Panther’s sphere of influence. The key is Ross’s outfit: the Joint Counter Terrorist Center, or JCTC. 

You might remember another heavily acronymed oversight body in the Marvel universe: SHIELD. Following Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Nick Fury and his agency are in a bad way. It was revealed that the spies had been infiltrated by Hydra, the former Nazis and big-time villains, and more or less the entire bureaucracy was dissolved. This leaves a problem, and not just for the heroes, but Marvel itself. 

SHIELD used to be the glue that held the Marvel universe together. Before the first Avengers movie, the idea of a grand superhero team-up seemed pretty far-fetched. To establish links between these seemingly disparate heroes, either Fury (Samuel L Jackson) or Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) would show up and drop significant hints.

The universe has gotten incredibly complicated since then (just look at the number of films in the pipeline) and having a relatively minor character able to move between franchises would be a useful tool to keep the wider plot moving. Freeman is a recognisable face, one likely to be remembered by audiences between films. Also, the fact he has been introduced in a film outside of his ‘core’ franchise – he’s likely to move from Captain America to his ‘home’ in the Black Panther film – suggests Ross is being positioned as a ‘floating’ character, able to crop up wherever is convenient. Could Freeman emerge from the shadows at the end of Doctor Strange, and tell the Sorceror Supreme about a big purple threat on the horizon? 

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This is all speculation, of course. But if there is one thing Disney specialises in, it’s pleasing nerds of all persuasions by giving us what we want. It’s hard to think of anything fans want more than Sherlock and Watson, together on the big screen.