Can you do a not-a-Mary-Sue argument for Astrid? I did think she was when I first watched the movie, but I love her character now, so when I see someone calling her a Mary Sue I always frown.
“Mary Sue” is used to mean almost anything anymore. Any time people see a female character that they feel is lazy writing or portraying common elements that reappear in many female characters, she’s called a Mary Sue. The purest definition of a Mary Sue is a perfect character with seemingly no flaws and seems to idealize an author’s wish fulfillment. If a Mary Sue has flaws, I often see they’re related to either something trivial, or something overly angsty and dramatic.
Astrid isn’t that. Even if we’re looking just at the first HTTYD, she is hardly wish fulfillment or perfect. She might start as Hiccup’s wish fulfillment - but the entire point is that Astrid’s skills of fighting dragons isn’t what is actually needed to keep Berk safe. Astrid is Hiccup’s ideal of a Viking… an ideal which ultimately needs to change for either Hiccup or Astrid to become their greater selves.
The television series, Gift of the Night Fury, the second movie, and other canon elements help expand Astrid even more. We see some specific weaknesses: instability when it comes to her family’s safety and honor, uncertainty when it comes to elements of her early romance with Hiccup, hot temper resulting in fiery reactions. We also see strengths: a logical side, an empathetic side, even a silly side. Astrid teasing Hiccup at the start of HTTYD 2 is not something we would expect of the “uber cool, ideal Mary Sue.” Astrid isn’t that straightforward definition of a Mary Sue, no, not at all.
That said, what people are picking up on for Astrid being a “Mary Sue” is that she does contain a lot of features in what I call a “stereotypical action woman.” The concept of a Mary Sue and a “stereotypical action woman” are sometimes conflated anymore, but what I mean by stereotypical action woman is:
- A female character who is a very badass fighter. Oftentimes, her fighting skills will be related to athleticism, close-quarters fighting, and agility.
- She also tends to look very sexy. Her clothing may be impractical, or her physique will noticeably be what society considers “hot.”
- She tends to be cold and more emotionally separated off from the other characters. She is the hardest character in the group to “get to know” in a friendly fashion.
- She may demonstrate a warmer, compassionate, and more affectionate side to her when interacting with the main male protagonist.
- She will usually be the love interest of the main male protagonist. They’ll fall in love and have a romance.
- The main male protagonist may start off less competent than she is, but by the end of the film, he might be better. Regardless, he’ll probably be more recognized for his output than she is.
- People may think she is an emblem of “feminism,” but if you take a closer look at her, it’s not really feministic at all. She’s another cardboard stereotype and instance of lazy writing that does not create beautiful individuality and freedom for representation of women in media. She’s simply the same action female mold that’s repeated in film after film after film.
Basically, a badass woman who is a good fighter in an action movie is often NOT a step forward in feminism. What I consider a “stereotypical action woman” is one such female character that is an uninspired stereotype. Fiction characters that I consider more or less falling into this form include Black Widow (MCU), Gamora (especially first GOTG), and Tauriel (The Hobbit). Many other characters have lesser extents of this trope… you could even talk about Tigress from KFP having lots of these elements.
As much as you may hate me saying this… I feel as though Astrid hits nearly every bullet point on this list, especially if you look at her just in the first movie. This is where lots of people may criticize her character, or why many might not be “as intrigued” with her character as others in the franchise.
What is important to consider about Astrid is that she is still more than those bullets on the list. She is also the character who starts dorkily dancing when she is sleep deprived. She is also the character who thinks that yaknog is a good idea. She is also the character who repeatedly unfurls Hiccup’s dorsal fin in HTTYD 2 because she finds his reaction hilarious. She is also the character who grows from a fiery young girl who wants to fight her parents’ war… into a talented, confident, compassionate dragon rider. Astrid is given a lot more time, attention, and characterization than most “stereotypical action women” I see. She isn’t a Mary Sue who’s already perfect… not an action woman meant to be a pleasing aesthetic to an action movie… but an intricate young woman who still needs to grow and develop throughout her life’s journey.
So that’s the best way to consider whether or not a character is a Mary Sue, a stereotypical action woman, or some other worn-out trope. Is she more than the bullets on the list? Is she more than those bullets in a unique way? And if so, then she’s probably not some unappealing, uninspired cardboard cutout. Haha, and I would say that Astrid has far more dimension than cardboard! :)