There’s a big Mary Sue in the Predator franchise.
I speak, of course, of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch.
I'm guessing you weren’t expecting Dutch to be the Mary Sue in question. Male action heroes don’t generally get referred to as Mary Sue's. It’s a term usually reserved for women stars—such as Naru (Amber Midthunder), the young Comanche hunter who anchors Prey the latest streaming-only Predator sequel. Set during the 1700s in the Great Plains, the new film has been a surprise hit for Hulu.
Some fans on social media and YouTube have insisted that Naru is too good to be true. Such too-good-to-be-true characters are often referred to as “Mary Sue's.” That’s a term from fan fiction communities used to describe the main character who can do anything, is fabulously awesome, and functions as an author or reader insert empowerment fantasy.
The thing is, the term “Mary Sue” which is an insult, is generally only used to mock or denigrate female characters. A male character who is fabulously awesome and functions as an empowerment fantasy isn’t a Mary Sue.
He’s Just an Action Movie Lead
Which brings us back to Dutch. The protagonist of the 1987 Predator film is a hardened mercenary with an extremely improbable heart of gold. He’s hired to lead an expedition to a nameless Central American nation where he is supposed to rescue diplomats—though it turns out his real mission is to disrupt Russian military operations.
Dutch has no real character except being awesome and being built like uber-muscle-y Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has no weaknesses. He has no personality, except that he’s virtuous, unflappable, and the best at everything.
Dutch will only take on missions he feels are moral and upright—only extractions, no assassinations. He’s a perfect physical specimen, but also a brilliant tactician. When his crew is suddenly stalked by a giant alien hunter, he quickly adapts to the highly improbable threat. He figures out that the Predator sees via infrared and covers himself with mud to hide his heat signature.
Also, he has a double-thick layer of plot armor. The huge, alien Predator kills most of the hardened mercenaries instantly, using targeted energy weapons that never miss. Except, when it shoots at Dutch, it somehow only gives him a flesh wound.
That’s how action movies work. The hero is amazingly lucky, amazingly smart, amazingly fit, amazingly good.
Would a real man, no matter how bulked up and tough, be able to beat a giant alien predator with advanced tech one on one? Would that same ruthless mercenary be a moral paragon who has kept his hands clean through the whole Cold War?
Of course not. It’s a movie; it’s not real.
It's Not Reality…
More, it’s an empowerment fantasy. You identify with Dutch, root for him, and feel validated when the manly man who is pure of heart and great of mind triumphs over the monster sent to fight him. He’s supposed to be too good to be true—a Mary Sue—so you can feel like you’re too good to be true as well for a couple of hours. That’s how empowerment fantasies work.
It's how the empowerment fantasy works in Prey too.
Rachel Leishman at The Mary Sue points out that Naru is given multiple training montages and is shown to be a careful and thoughtful hunter. She is willing to plan and wait in pursuit of her quarry, in contrast to her more impetuous male Comanche colleagues.
Prey is careful to tell us how tough and smart and good Naru is, just as Predator is careful to tell us how tough and smart and good Dutch is. But when the films build up their protagonists, it’s more excuse than explanation. Like Dutch, Naru isn’t really a match for the Predator.
And as with Dutch, that’s the point. It’s an empowerment fantasy because the star is overcoming impossible odds. The action movie is fun because the character is a Mary Sue. They’re too good to be true; the universe gives them a boost so they can expand beyond their own limited human abilities.
If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be an action movie empowerment fantasy. It would be some sort of realistic drama. And who wants to watch those?
So when fans complain that a female protagonist can’t kill a Predator, they’re not really complaining because a female protagonist can’t kill a Predator. The whole fun of action movies is watching heroes do things that are obviously too much for them!
Rather, fans complain because they don’t think women are entitled to be in an empowerment fantasy. It’s not that women can’t be strong. It’s that fans see strong women as a threat to their own empowerment.
This is the argument of philosopher Kate Manne in her book Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women. Manne argues that misogyny isn’t really about dehumanizing women or seeing women as less than human. Rather, it’s about men’s belief that they are entitled to women’s deference, to women’s bodies, to women’s work and time.
The role of women, in misogynist narratives, is to tell men they are awesome by praising them or by giving them someone to save and protect. That’s the function of the terrified Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) in Predator. It’s the function of the more competent Isabelle (Alice Braga) in the 2010 Predators, too. Isabelle is a trained sniper and does a bunch of brave things. But Royce (Adrien Brody) is the real hero. Tough Isabelle defers to him, which makes him look all the tougher.
Prey is aware that men always want to be the heroes and addresses it directly. The Comanche men are reluctant to let Naru become a hunter or to lead expeditions. They, including her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) claim that this is because she’s weak, isn’t ready and needs protection.
But eventually, it becomes clear that they’re not being honest with themselves or with her. When she defeats a male warrior in hand-to-hand combat, they don’t acknowledge her prowess. They gang up on her and beat her down.
Taabe denigrates her for not killing a mountain lion on her first attempt. Later he admits that it was her plan that allowed him to kill the lion in the first place. It’s because of her that he is celebrated by the tribe, and he feels entitled to the glory. He runs her down to secure his own place—though to his credit he eventually regrets doing so and apologizes.
Empowerment fantasies are silly Hollywood fun. But they’re also a reflection of, and a statement about, who is allowed to be powerful. No one can defeat a Predator, not least because Predators aren’t real.
But stories about brave warriors fighting impossible odds tell us who is allowed to be a hero, who is allowed to lead, who is allowed to be strong and good, who is allowed to be at the center of their own story.
A Mary Sue isn’t a character who is too good to be true. It’s a character who a fan has decided isn’t entitled to be good. Naru’s prowess threatens the Predator—and the Predator, in Prey, is another name for the patriarchy. When misogynist fans say that a Native woman can’t be a hero, what they mean is that they’re afraid she might be one.
More Articles From the Wealth of Geeks Network:
- Syndrome K Is Yet Another Inspiring Story About the Holocaust
- How To Buy A Car Despite Rising Prices
- Prey: One of The Best in the Predator Franchise
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Featured Image Courtesy of Hulu/Twentieth Century Fox.
Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.