Civil War has us worried for future Marvel movies

The third Captain America movie, better known simply as Civil War, is unquestionably awesome. It's got a solid and thoughtful plot, tons of fun and interesting characters with believable motivations, and some of the very best superhero fight scenes that have ever been put on screen. It's fun, and funny, and thrilling, and the movie that fans have wanted for years. But it's not perfect. And while its imperfections are few and far between, those small cracks in the armor may prove more troublesome for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe than you might think…

Oh, and beware: spoilers abound.

Amazing, but overstuffed

As mentioned, the big superhero throwdown in the middle of the movie is so incredibly fun that it's worth the price of admission alone. Let's count up who gets in on the fisticuffs: Captain America, Winter Soldier, Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Vision, Black Panther…did we leave anyone out?

That's 12 superheroes, ten having come from 12 previous Marvel movies with two introduced in this one. It's a miracle that Civil War managed to give its characters enough depth and dimension to actually work. But in just under two-and-a-half hours, it still only barely manages to resolve its major plotlines while setting up four future movies (Black Panther, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and both Avengers: Infinity War flicks). How much longer can this kind of narrative corpulence go on? When every movie is a jumping off point for even more movies, at what point does it cease to be a film and start being a three-hour preview?

Slaves to continuity

One of the absolute coolest parts about Civil War and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole is the fact that it relies on shared continuity in a big way, just like Marvel Comics does. It's redefined the movie business as a whole, and it's making movies more like serialized television shows. It rewards viewers who've stuck with the franchise over the years, and saves time on introducing characters. But it's also becoming impenetrable.

If you missed 2015's Age of Ultron, you'll have know idea who the Vision or Scarlet Witch are. You'll also be in the dark about the entire fictional nation of Sokovia, on which huge chunks of the plot hinge. The same goes for Ant-Man, who plays a pretty big role in the proceedings. While this is technically the third movie in the Captain America franchise, it might as well be the 13th movie in the Marvel franchise. What's going to happen when the Infinity War movies roll around? Moviegoers who have missed a film or two are going to be completely lost.

Even worse…the more these movies build on each other, the more labyrinthine its backstory will become. That's resulted in multiple comic book continuity reboots from both DC and Marvel Comics, with varying degrees of success. How long until Marvel Studios has to hit its own reset button? Maybe sooner than we think, because…

Our heroes are getting old

At one point, Captain America and Bucky talk about some girls they tried to take out in their younger days, jokingly adding that not only are the two ladies probably a hundred years old by now, so are they. It's a nice moment that reminds you that these are two old friends, reunited out of their time and struggling to survive in the modern age. But it's actually not far from the truth when it comes to some of Marvel's heroes.

While Chris "Captain America" Evans was 34 at the time of Civil War's release, Robert "Iron Man" Downey Jr. was already 51, with three solo movies and two Avengers movies under his belt. Online rumors about whether he'll return for a fourth Iron Man have swirled prior to Civil War's May 2016 release. Don "War Machine" Cheadle was the same age—and we all saw what happened to him when he fell from the sky and broke a couple vertebrae. Jeremy "Hawkeye" Renner was 45, while Paul "Ant-Man" Rudd was 47.

There's nothing in the superhero rulebook that says you can't be a middle-aged Marvel. But unlike their comic book counterparts, these actors will age with every movie. They simply can't believably keep coming back, film after film, without eventually being recast…and that'll be a lot more jarring than swapping out Terrence Howard for Cheadle in Iron Man 2. Needing younger actors to play our favorite characters is yet another reason we may be heading toward a cinematic reboot. And pretty much every comic book fan—who's suffered through several of them—will agree: continuity reboots suck.

The villain problem

Now let's talk about bad guys. Civil War does an excellent job of creating a believable and exciting conflict between our superheroes. One of the reasons it works so well is that, as we've discussed, we've been following a lot of these characters for many, many years. But, while it's thrilling to see Iron Man and Captain America beat each other up, we have to ask: what about the bad guys?

In the comics, superheroes have multiple showdowns with longtime villains. Cap's never-ending battle against the Red Skull, Spidey's ongoing beef with Doctor Octopus…these conflicts have history, and that makes them compelling. But the Marvel movies take a "good guys win, bad guys die" approach to its villains. The Red Skull is dead. Whiplash is dead. Ultron is dead. Arnim Zola died twice. Even Yellowjacket, a pretty low-level villain compared with the rest, got imploded to death. The only reason Loki's still around for Thor to punch is because he's literally immortal.

At this rate, there's not going to be anyone left for the heroes to fight in future movies if they're all taking dirt naps. If future Marvel movies want to replicate the awesomeness of the huge hero fight of Civil War in later films, it'll have to let some of its bad guys continue breathing. And while Civil War's Zemo survived the movie's end…we'd trade him for a resurrected Red Skull any day.

Diversity is still an issue

Marvel is slowly but surely adding some diversity to its formerly homogenous roster of characters, and Civil War is proof that it's going in the right direction. It has three non-white men in the form of Falcon, War Machine, and Black Panther, the last of whom will get his own solo movie in 2018. It's also got three ladies (all white) who have pretty big parts…but as of this writing, there are still no announced plans for solo adventures for Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, or Sharon Carter. And while we're on the subject, Civil War also mostly failed the Bechdel Test, since there's never a scene where two female characters talked to each other about a subject other than a man. Early in the film Black Widow and Scarlet Witch talk about surveillance over their radios for about two sentences, but it's still in relation to tracking and capturing Crossbones (yet another villain who bit the dust).

Marvel isn't completely ignoring the topic of diversity. With the aforementioned plans for a Black Panther flick, as well as a Captain Marvel movie starring a female lead both set for 2018, the studio is moving in the right direction. But again, we're 13 movies into this franchise and it still feels like baby steps. It doesn't look like much will change between Civil Wand Infinity War, especially considering the fact that Doctor Strange's "Ancient One" character went from an Asian man in the comics to being played by…Tilda Swinton. Oof.

How do you top this?

Now that we've got all our serious concerns out of the way, let's get back to where we started. Civil War is still a huge success as a film on pretty much all the levels that matter. Fans and casual moviegoers alike can't help but love it to bits. From Spider-Man's amazing introduction to Ant-Man's transformation into Giant-Man, it really delivers an incredibly entertaining and fun experience. Some fans might even argue it's the best Marvel movie to date…

So how do you beat the best? The law of averages dictates that it's impossible to hit a home run every time you come up to bat—but it seems like that's exactly what's happening with Marvel's movies. At some point, there's bound to be a clunker. Many seemed to think that Age of Ultron was a sign that Marvel was beginning to stumble, but its 75 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes would seem to indicate that it's actually a pretty well-liked movie despite its flaws. But how will Marvel keep the hits coming after all of its movies finally collide in Infinity War? What goes up, must come down. And at some point, we'll have reached the top of the Marvel Mountain. When will we start to fall from the peak?