Brolin vs. Brolin: How Cable in 'Deadpool 2' Beats Thanos in 'Infinity War'
Josh Brolin is in a strange position right now in that the two top-grossing films over the past month include him as a main character. He starred in Avengers: Infinity War as the villainous Thanos, snatching up more screentime than franchise favorites like Iron Man or Captain America. Despite being one of the highest-grossing films of all time, Infinity War was dethroned at the box office in the third weekend in May by Deadpool 2, yet another superhero movie in which Josh Brolin plays a super-powered villain. Even though Thanos is capable of defeating the Hulk in one-on-one combat and destroying half the universe with the Infinity Gauntlet, Brolin’s other villain Cable totally beats out the Mad Titan as the villain of the year. Deadpool 2’s tone makes Cable a refreshing antagonist whereas Infinity War just sort of gives us an exhausting one.
For anyone with Avengers fatigue that’s tired of the endless build-up towards the MCU’s next big thing while crossovers and cameos distract us from any genuine substance, Deadpool 2 is the perfect antidote, ironically showing us an alternate Brolin villain that’s so much simpler than Thanos while being inherently more watchable.
I remember watching Avengers: Infinity War a second time in theaters, and I let out one of the biggest yawns of my life when, after throwing his adopted daughter Gamora off a cliff, Thanos woke up floating in the water miles away as the Soul Stone materialized near him. The whole explanation behind the Stone’s retrieval is a bit convoluted and boring. We’re led to believe that Thanos really loved Gamora just because he cried over having to kill her. But the purple Mad Titan doesn’t get enough genuine character development for us to ever really care. It has nothing to do with Brolin’s performance, which is solid. These failings with Infinity War have more to do with an uninteresting character eating up the most time in an overstuffed script. It also doesn’t help that his illogical goal is to kill half the universe to “save” the rest of it.
But over in Deadpool 2, Brolin plays a villain that doesn’t need a complicated backstory. In Richard Newby’s excellent analysis of Deadpool 2 and Cable’s role written for The Hollywood Reporter, he writes, “While so many superhero films are focused on planting what comes next, Cable isn’t defined by what we know from his comic book narrative, but rather by Brolin’s ability to create an empathetic asshole who is able to find hope in the past.” Cable’s character arc in Deadpool 2 is minimalistic at best: He time-travels from a future in which a mutant burned his wife and daughter to death, looking to kill them as a teenager.
It’s easy to say Cable’s story has Terminator vibes, but there’s a more direct parallel to be found in Looper. But that hardly matters. What does matter is that despite being totally ridiculous and utterly silly, Deadpool 2 somehow gives us a more compelling narrative for its villain by being subversive and generally speaking just doing less.
In his review, Inverse’s own James Grebey called Deadpool 2 a “reference machine, but one with a surprising amount of soul.” Watching Deadpool 2 is a total delight because of its soul — Deadpool himself reminds the viewer several times that Deadpool 2 is a movie about family. We watch that family grow and change as Cable transforms from outright villain to unlikely ally.
It’s ironic, then, that the stakes in Deadpool 2 are so low, especially in comparison to Infinity War. Deadpool wants to save the soul of a young kid, and when the hardened cyborg from the future shows enough compassion to save Deadpool’s life, we believe it. Because Deadpool 2 earns that kind of character growth. Infinity War does not.
Both Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War are currently in theaters, competing for the box office each weekend.