If there's one true King of Summer 2018, it's Josh Brolin. He's been a headline star of Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 and Sicario: Day of the Soldado, bringing in almost $3 billion worldwide. Aside from the positive reviews and box office success, what makes these films so striking is how in each one Brolin's playing some variation of the same character.
First, in Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos completely redefines what's possible with a hulking CGI villain. What the Mad Titan wants - to wipe out half the life in the universe - is certainly big and somewhat questionable logic-wise, but Brolin's mo-cap performance is injected with empathy. A being of pure conviction, he's a counterpoint to the Avengers, who repeatedly find themselves in perilous situations due to their inability to sacrifice. Thanos kills his favorite daughter without a thought, and indeed is motivated by something horrific. Then at the end, with his "snap" achieved, he's forced to face the enormity of the act he's committed - "What did it cost?" asks young Gamora in Soul World, "Everything" her father replies - leaving the question of if Thanos' drive is eroded away ahead of the upcoming Avengers 4.
Deadpool 2 saw Brolin play another beloved Marvel comic book figure, this time more of an anti-hero. Nathan Summers aka Cable travels back from the future to kill soon-to-be-psychopath Russell Collins as a child, only to come up against an emotionally shaken Deadpool. Over the course of the movie, he begins to see things differently and in the finale uses up his ability to travel back home to save a sacrificial Wade Wilson.
Finally, there's Sicario: Day of Soldado, which despite coming on the trail of the R-rated insanity of Deadpool is certainly Brolin's most adult Summer 2018 film. He reprises the role of Matt Graver from the 2015 original, a closed-off CIA operative who exists outside of standard laws, doing whatever it takes to achieve his goals. This time, that's starting a war between the Mexican drug cartels, which involves kidnapping the daughter of one boss to frame another. Things don't go to plan, with Graver's long-term associate Alejandro seemingly killed when he's trapped below the border. Sicario 2 ends with Matt fighting back tears, his callous exterior broken.
It's easy to read these as very distinct characters on their own arcs, but it's striking how they each use similar subversion tricks to deconstruct the typical masculinity of the type Brolin's found himself in. Thanos, Cable and Matt all enter as singularly-driven forces that care little for the collateral damage around them as they chase their ethically questionable goal, but through the threat or even loss of life of those around them are forced to rethink their place in the world. Each movie shows the fragility of such brutish figures. What the long-term effects of this arc will be saved for each movie's sequel - Avengers 4 releases next year, X-Force is in pre-production and Sicario 3 is likely - and it's a fair bet the lessons each character takes will be different, but this is a startling conflation of arcs.
As for why this has happened, it is as much coincidence as it is Josh Brolin having three major movies out in as many months; he signed on for each project at different points - he was cast as Thanos back in 2014, before test footage for the first Deadpool even leaked. However, that alone says a lot how ruthlessly driven characters, nevertheless villains, are now viewed, and the lurking emotion between them. Only time will tell if George and Tammy, Brolin's next film about star George Jones (played opposite Jessica Chastain as Tammy Wynette), will continue this trend.