Welcome to Marvel, Josh Brolin. It’s good to have you around — for a second time, that is. In the past month, the big-named actor has appeared in two blockbuster action films (both from Marvel, albeit under different umbrellas): Avengers: Infinity War in April, and now Deadpool 2 in May.
A decade ago, it would’ve been hard to imagine Brolin in this spot, as a major role player in the superhero genre. Then again, it would’ve been hard to imagine studios churning out movies of this type at such a high rate. The star of No Country for Old Men, the man we once knew — and cherished — as Llewelyn Moss, has evolved from rural everyman hero to the main source of conflict in some of the biggest films of 2018.
Deadpool 2, which hit theaters last Friday, finds Brolin jumping back in time as an executioner. His mission has nothing to do with Wade Wilson, even if the movie finds its protagonist in the hands of death many times. Last month, he was also an executioner — and more than that, an executioner with tons of power, ready to play god. It’s hard to imagine the man behind the god-fearing Texan character of No Country taking up the task of murdering half of the universe, but I guess someone had to one-up Anton Chigurh. Infinity War brings back the familiarity of, “They say, ‘You don’t have to do this,’” but Thanos will, and Brolin does justice to the villain by flexing plenty of muscle.
As far as his journey as an actor is concerned, it’s easy to make the assumption that he’s undergone quite the evolutionary career arc to reach this point. But you only have to go back to last year to realize he’s still the same cinematic all-American we know and love.
With Only the Brave, he reminded us how well he could play the plaid-shirted, family-oriented, and most of all, determined hero — and he did it mere months before his cold, heartless Marvel debut. It’s Brave where Brolin perhaps plays his most heroic character to date: A real-life firefighter who led a team of “hotshots” into the heart of deadly blazes. If you missed it, be sure to rent it, but have a box of tissues on standby.
For those who identify the actor with Llewelyn Moss (or even his True Grit rendition of Tom Chaney), you can’t get much more prototypical Josh Brolin than that. But he’s quickly turned the tides with his two newest roles, and it’s making him out to be one of the most versatile and dynamic stars in Hollywood today. Sure, his low voice is always a dead giveaway, and sure, he looks much more like himself with a thick mustache. Yet, it’s his giant, hairless, purple Eternal-Deviant hybrid that has in a short time gone down as the most memorable Marvel villain to date (make fun of his overly CGI appearance all you want, but you sure as hell remember him).
Fast forward to Deadpool 2, and Brolin is once again on a mission. His Cable has a robotic arm and a glowing eye, like some sort of Terminator-Winter Soldier hybrid. The Winter Soldier comparison even makes up one of Deadpool’s handful of jabs at superheroes (he even goes as far as referencing Thanos, which was perfect timing since it came out not only a month after the new Avengers flick). The movie sure knows how to make you laugh, whether you’re a casual moviegoer or a cinema nerd.
For a film that rarely takes itself seriously, who knew where Brolin would fit in as a serious dude yet again? But his intensity makes for a fun contrast when put up against the incessantly goofy Wade Wilson. More so than the first Deadpool, the sequel uses humor to offset tragedy, violence, and the dark surroundings; as a co-worker recently told me, the entire thing is “comic relief,” or, as I snarked back, “comic book relief.” The biggest relief is that it’s still funny (Ryan Reynolds’ writing credit may have played a part, and his ridiculously over-the-top jab at Green Lantern is a thing of a beauty), and Cable fits in snugly as another awkward fighter in a land of misfits. It’s his seriousness that compels. Plus, it’s why we had a plot at all — and yes, Deadpool also points this out (Is there anything he doesn’t make fun of in this film?).
Looking across the majority of Brolin’s roles, it’s a sense of earnestness that glues everything together: his serious care, his intensity, his willingness to do what he’s set out to do. Pun intended, the True Grit star has always had some serious grit, and it’s gotten him far in Hollywood.
He may have had his outlier moments — anyone remember him playing George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s W. (pronounced “dubbya” or else you’re not doing it right)? There’s also Inherent Vice, the Paul Thomas Anderson ‘70s stoner caper than we didn’t deserve (or even need) but got anyway. It was disjointed cinema at its finest, a pure haze-dream of Brolin’s weed-filled adventures as a private investigator. However you feel about it and wherever it fits in his catalogue, it’s an ambitious endeavor from the actor that flaunts his diversity in role choices.
About the only big Brolin role I haven’t talked about is Sicario, and his reprisal of Matt Graver comes this summer — the actor’s third big role already this year (remember, Thanos returns next year, as does Cable later on in the recently announced Marvel film X-Force). No one could’ve imagined the guy who first made his mark as a teenager in The Goonies would end up where he is now. Still, Sean Astin had Lord of the Rings and Corey Feldman had…well, we’re not going to talk about that.
If there was anyone more destined for continual greatness, though, it was Brolin. He’s not Tom Cruise, nor is he Liam Neeson, but, like the two action stars, he’s carved his own niche — and with that, an adaptable edge. It’s going to be interesting to watch where he takes his stone-faced ruggedness next, and luckily for us, we don’t have to wait long.