A record-setting number of people went to go see Incredibles 2 this weekend, and while I won’t belittle a great kids movie with an adorable super-powered baby, the real prize of the weekend was Tag. You know what tag is—a simple but undeniably fun game that’s been contested in playgrounds since the dawn of time. But it is also the backdrop for the latest CGI-related drama that has beset Hollywood, and in the case of this writer, caused a momentary existential crisis.
You see, Tag is not just a movie about adult men playing tag for one month every year for three decades (this is based on a real story, by the way). It’s also the film that broke Jeremy Renner. Well, his arms at least.
Renner broke both of his arms attempting a stunt on the third day of shooting, and as a result, his arms were digitally replaced for most of the film. (This story was initially recounted by Renner last summer but only recently picked up steam when Tag costar Jon Hamm talked about it on Ellen in May.) At The Ringer, we then did a thorough examination of the Tag trailer for any sign of questionable, potentially fake Renner arms, and found some suspect sights, most notably in a scene of the trailer when the studio failed to edit out Renner’s cast in a scene where his character is throwing donuts at Ed Helms (observe the unobscured cast on the right arm).
This wasn’t a great sign, though it wasn’t a death sentence—movie trailers aren’t always finished products, and oftentimes they can be misleading. But given the severity of Renner’s injury and the fact that this is a movie about people tagging other people, I expected Renner’s broken arms to derail the movie in the same way Henry Cavill’s upper lip broke the Justice League.
Tag needed to be viewed and inspected with the utmost detail; this was my Zapruder film. So I went to the multiplex this weekend—joined by a ragtag group of mostly couples that were either die-hard Renner-heads who’ve had his app downloaded for months, fellow CGI-arm skeptics, or folks who figured they’d go see something since Incredibles 2 was sold out—with one question in mind: How do Jeremy Renner’s arms hold up against intense critical scrutiny? Here’s what I discovered.
Jeremy Renner Is Tag’s White Whale
The premise of the Tag is that Renner’s character, Jerry, is planning to quit the decades-long tradition of playing the game with his buddies for the month of May, probably because he’s about to get married. Jerry has also never, ever been tagged in the 30 years of playing, which is truly ridiculous. And so the rest of the group—Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, and Hannibal Buress (I will only refer to them by their actual names and not their character names)—makes it their goal to tag Jerry at least once before he retires. It’s an interesting-enough premise and one that was probably necessary to create some kind of conflict in a movie about playing lots of goddamn tag.
But it also means that Renner has very little screen time compared to the rest of the core cast. He spends a lot of time literally hiding and evading his friends—clearly, he’d also excel at competitive hide-and-go-seek—and shit-talking them from a safe, untaggable distance. Jeremy Renner, then, is the group’s white whale—a man so good at not getting tagged that it brings Ed Helms to his breaking point. In the final act of the movie, Helms trashes his family basement in a fit of rage because he can’t tag Jeremy Renner, which is quite a specific type of rage.
From a technical standpoint, that means the less Renner screentime, the better it is for Tag. The movie doesn’t have to be concerned about his CGI arms distracting audiences; nor do they need to spend an exorbitant amount of money replacing those broken arms with digital arms in several scenes. It also helps that Tag is a very pro-sleeve movie.
There Is Only One Sleeveless Renner Scene
Another cost-saving measure to Tag’s advantage is the lack of sleeveless Renner scenes—in fact, there’s only one such sequence in the entire movie. It’s also the scene that apparently resulted in Renner breaking his arms—as the actor told Jimmy Fallon earlier this month, he was scaling a stack of chairs and fell on both of his arms. (He didn’t realize they were broken until they swelled up later in the day. He also talked about how he struggled to open a bathroom door after he got his casts on and that Jon Hamm had to break down the door to help Renner get out of the bathroom. This interview is really worth watching.)
In that scene, Renner’s Jerry is attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting when he’s ambushed by his friends, and he springs into tag-evading action, including climbing the aforementioned stack of chairs and almost breaking a church window to jump out of the building before choosing not to. With his arms in full view, you’ll notice that Tag uses a combination of a Renner stunt double and CGI to stage everything—and apparently overcompensate for Renner’s (admittedly decent) buffness with some absurd forearm veins.
I refuse to believe these are real, veiny Renner arms, and the evidence clearly points to these being fake arms. Since Renner explained that the injury happened climbing those chairs and that this was at the start of Tag’s production, it’s fair to assume Tag did some wardrobe-related course-correcting to make sure Renner’s Jerry wouldn’t have his arms exposed for the rest of the film. Given how questionable and distracting those arms looked over the roughly 10-minute period of Alcoholics Anonymous gallivanting, I can’t argue that it was the wrong choice.
It would be one thing if Jerry was the only character that embraced wearing sleeves, but all the main characters wear shirts with sleeves—and later, since Jerry’s getting married, some suit jackets. This might’ve always been part of the plan—the movie takes place in Spokane, Washington, which is generally quite cool during the month of May. But it also means Tag has a good excuse to hide those broken Renner arms under some swathe protection.
Jeremy Renner Close-Up Shots Consume Tag
Broken arms are still broken arms, so even if Renner had his real arms underneath those sleeves, they still wouldn’t have been able to move all that much. Thus, Tag employs a lot of close-up shots for Renner, including several where he has his arms behind his back. It’s framed as a cocksure, “You losers will never tag me!” stance, but it’s also a great way to avoid having Renner do anything with broken arms while also being in a scene without expensive CGI enhancements.
The film’s action scenes are also to Tag’s advantage. The action is shot in a frenetic style that uses plenty of slow motion, which means the movie can seamlessly transition between slo-mo shots of Renner barely moving his immobile arms, and a stunt double performing the actual moves when the action is sped up again. In the theater, I didn’t have the luxury of slowing Renner’s scenes to half speed—which I’m not afraid to admit I did for every single second of previous Tag footage—but that’s not the point of a movie, anyway, even one with CGI arms.
The weird thing about Tag’s relatively drama-free Renner-arms saga is that it makes the film a far less interesting moviegoing experience. Tag just isn’t zany or self-aware enough to stand out from other studio comedies despite its all-star cast. And with Renner’s broken arms not being much of a distraction, it isn’t deserving of a “so bad, it’s good” watch like The Snowman or John Travolta’s Gotti.
Warner Bros. will probably consider the understated use of Renner’s digital arms a victory, but the worst thing a movie can be in the stream-happy days of 2018 is mediocre. Tag is, unfortunately, pretty mediocre viewing—fake arms and all. Perhaps we all should’ve just watched Incredibles 2.