Over the past couple of years, the tide has turned against quippy dialogue. Often credited to Joss Whedon‘s influence, this style of self-aware humor is rife in the MCU, exemplified by overused one-liners like “Now THAT just happened!” and “They’re right behind me, aren’t they?”
So when the trailer for Square Enix’s new fantasy RPG Forspoken arrived with a quip-filled voiceover, gamers were unimpressed. While the gameplay footage looks totally fine, featuring cool fantasy landscapes and magical battles, people were distracted by the perky-voiced narrator exclaiming, “I’m seeing FREAKING dragons!” and “Yeah, okay, that is something I do now.”
For the most part, this writing style is increasingly unpopular because it’s so overexposed, with “Marvel one-liners” becoming a buzzword for lazy, clichéd humor. But there’s also a deeper criticism at play.
This kind of self-conscious comedy sabotages any sense of sincerity, suggesting that the writers are embarrassed to be telling a sci-fi/fantasy story. In the case of something like Forspoken, there’s a disconnect between the visuals and the upbeat contemporary American voiceover, which expresses comedic disbelief about fantasy tropes that everyone in the audience has seen a million times before.
In Forspoken‘s defence, the voiceover does make sense in context. The protagonist is a woman from modern-day New York who gets transported into a fantasy world, and she must figure out how to survive and use her newfound magic powers. But while a certain amount of disbelief is normal for this kind of Isekai story, viewers still cringed at the self-aware tone.
As the trailer went viral on Twitter, people began to imagine what other fantasy franchises would sound like if they were written like this. “A powerful ring? Sentient trees? Creepy orks?” wrote one commenter, parodying Lord of the Rings. “C’mon guys let’s defeat that douche nozzle Sauron before second breakfast!”
While genre-savvy quips weren’t actually invented by Joss Whedon, there’s an overlap between his fall from grace and the way audiences have turned away from this type of humor.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer felt fresh and exciting in 1997 because it combined fantasy/horror tropes with teen dramedy, casting a perky Valley Girl as an unconventional action hero. The main characters knew they were in a weird situation, and it made sense for them to joke about it. However, Whedonesque humor doesn’t work for everything.
The MCU is the quintessential example. In order to maintain a consistent action/comedy tone, Marvel often inserts quippy one-liners into spinoffs (like Doctor Strange) that should probably be more serious. And since the MCU is an inescapable force in pop culture, audiences are now very familiar with this phenomenon, leading to the recurring criticism that Marvel can’t take anything seriously.
2022 is when these critiques broke through into mainstream discourse, reflected in the negative response to Thor: Love and Thunder, and the flood of memes comparing The Batman‘s serious tone to Marvel humor. So while Forspoken probably would’ve been fine a few years ago, this trailer arrived at precisely the right time to inspire a wave of derision.