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An Extremely Close Examination of Jeremy Renner’s CGI Arms in ‘Tag’

The actor broke both of his arms three days into filming the movie, forcing the studio to resort to special effects—and forcing one writer down a deeply disturbing path of obsession

Getty Images/Warner Bros./Ringer illustration

Have you ever watched something that at first seemed totally normal, but then someone pointed out a strange quirk, or a slight flaw about it, and from then on you weren’t able to look at it any other way? This happened for me in the early years of The Walking Dead, when a friend noted that Jon Bernthal really enjoys rubbing his head while acting. Giving fatherly advice to Carl? Gotta rub that scalp. Contemplating killing Rick? Knead the cranium, Jon. Bernthal is a talented and tremendously fun actor, but whenever he’s in something now I’m acutely focused on his head and how often it might be massaged by his own hand.

There was nothing particularly strange about the upcoming Warner Bros. movie Tag—aside from the fact the premise is about a group of adult men who play a game of tag for one month every year. (I know it’s based on a true story, but that only makes it weirder.) Tag just looks like a run-of-the-mill summer comedy—the kind with a title that says exactly what it is—with a surprisingly good cast led by Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Jon Hamm (?!), Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb, Thomas Middleditch, and Lil Rel Howery. The trailer for Tag was perfectly fine, if unspectacular.

But then Jon Hamm casually mentioned on Ellen last week that something happened to his costar Renner during filming that affected the entire production and final cut of the movie: He broke both of his arms on the third day of shooting and had to wear green casts that could be edited out of the majority of the film using CGI.

First of all, as Hamm rightly points out, Renner has played a superhero in a major action movie franchise (Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in case you forgot, which maybe you did) for nearly a decade, but the movie he actually gets seriously injured filming is … about people tagging other people? Seriously?

More importantly, now that I know about this bizarre injury—and the special effects that had to be used to cover it up—rewatching the Tag trailer I feel like Neo when he became privy to the code of the Matrix. It is now impossible to look at Tag and not feel beguiled by the arms that may or may not be Renner’s real arms. How extensive is the digital appendage-ment, really? What other camera tricks have been employed to gloss over Renner’s busted limbs? Will Renner’s CGI’ed arms derail Tag the same way that Henry Cavill’s eerily smooth, digitally brushed upper lip derailed Justice League? Hamlet once said that his mind was full of scorpions, and well, my mind is full of Jeremy Renner’s fake arms. The only way to heal my madness is to give into it fully and examine Tag meticulously—shot-by-supposed-CGI-arm-shot.

The Pre-Trailer Teaser

There’s this annoying new trend in movie trailers where the trailer will play a five-second montage of footage before beginning the trailer—as if to sell you on watching the rest of the trailer after clicking the link. It’s very stupid! Mercifully, Tag does not have one of those brief montages; instead, it’s just Jeremy Renner with a camera running through the hallway telling you to check out the trailer before Hamm and Helms tag him.

Jeremy Renner Stills via Warner Bros.

It’s a cute bit that I have to believe was not CGI’ed. For starters, Renner is holding a handheld camera—no special effects can replace a human arm and hold something in place. There’s maybe a 2 percent chance this is the work of a highly trained cameraman mimicking Renner’s movements (with some terrific acting by Renner pretending he’s holding a camera), but why would you waste all that time and money on a trailer tease? If this was somehow filmed in the middle of Renner’s injury, the leather jacket was a clever way to hide Renner’s casts, and maybe we aren’t giving the actor enough credit. He is holding a camera with one broken hand, and leaning his body on another. How is he not grimacing in pain? Is Jeremy Renner the next Daniel Day-Lewis, with his Method acting limited only to hiding broken bones?

My best guess is that this quick little promotional video was recorded fairly recently, giving Renner plenty of time to heal his normal human arms, which can once again hold a camera and casually lean on some cardboard boxes.

Jeremy Renner with Jon Hamm in the background

Conclusion: Real Renner arms.

The Wedding

At the start of the Tag trailer, Renner’s character, Jerry Pierce, is getting married to Leslie Bibb. (Not the Leslie Bibb—Sam Rockwell is married to the Leslie Bibb. I just don’t know the name of Leslie Bibb’s character and am too deep into arm analysis to look it up.) The gag here is that the guys’ game of tag is still happening, so Helms’s character tries to tag Renner unsuccessfully at the altar. The best shot we get of Renner arms comes just before Helms attempts to tag him, as he leans forward to kiss Leslie Bibb.

Leslie Bibb and Jeremy Renner kissing

The arms don’t look that bad—and it certainly must be easier to CGI the sleeves of a sharkskin suit, rather than the intricacies of a bare human arm. But it’s the hands that arouse suspicion here. These hands are nearly the size of Bibbs’s entire face, and they don’t appear to be making direct contact with her face, either.

Close-up of Jeremy Renner’s hands on Leslie Bibb’s face

Here’s the thing: Renner’s hands are pretty big IRL—observe this image of them, which is amazingly in a section on Pinterest called “HAND PORN.” His hand looks to be nearly the size of his face, and I’d wager that his face is larger than or at least equal to the size of Bibbs’s face. Therefore, the size of his hand relative to her face in Tag checks out.

The arms could still be CGI, but I’m willing to bet these are his real hands. Hamm said Renner’s arms were covered in green casts, and it’s possible to get arm casts that don’t entirely obscure your hands. In fact, in a photo posted to Renner’s Instagram on June 2017, you can see that one of the casts leaves his right hand completely exposed.

Fall down seven times...stand up 8! #fixedup #pushthrough

A post shared by Jeremy Renner (@renner4real) on

Now, it’s Renner’s left hand that is nearly making contact with Bibbs’s face in Tag, but if the studio was willing to spend millions of dollars on CGI to replace Renner’s broken arms, certainly it would have been able to help Renner acquire a cast for his left arm that would leave his hand uncovered. On the other hand, maybe that makes too much sense.

Conclusion: Real Renner hands, CGI’d Renner arms.

The Failed Tags

Following the wedding scene, Renner’s on-screen friends describe the ridiculous premise of the movie, which, aside from the fact it’s about a game of tag, centers on Renner’s Jerry Pierce having never been tagged in the 30 years they’ve played the game. The exposition is interspersed with shots of Helms, Hamm, Johnson, and Buress unsuccessfully attempting to tag Renner.

Jeremy Renner running
Jeremy Renner in the woods with his hands behind his back
Jeremy Renner draping a blanket over Jon Hamm

The key, once again, seems to be the covering of the arms in sleeves—and in one shot, his arms are behind his back, as if Tag is teasing you about the fallacy of Renner’s arms and whether or not they’re real. It’s unclear if Tag always planned to give Renner’s character sleeves to wear, but consider this: According to Helms in the trailer, the month-long game of tag is always played in May. May is a spring month that often features summer-like weather. Is it normal to wear leather jackets at the beginning of summer? Heck no. Ed Helms has the right idea.

Ed Helms wearing a red short-sleeve polo shirt

With Renner breaking his arms so early in production, it’s possible Tag called an audible and gave Renner’s character plenty more sleeves, which would ostensibly offset some of the expensive prospect of replacing his real arms with CGI arms. The jacket is a cost-saving measure: Just put his broken arms underneath those sleeves. Warner Bros. wouldn’t want to spend Henry Cavill mustache money on a movie about PLAYING TAG. To explain away all the sleeves, maybe there’s a line in the movie in which Jon Hamm’s like, “Boy, it sure is unseasonably cool this month. I wish I had brought a jacket like ol’ Jerry here.”

Obviously, if Renner’s arms are doing something spectacular—like draping Jon Hamm in a blanket to avoid a tag—they are probably doing so through the magic of CGI. But if he’s wearing a leather jacket, or hiding his arms behind his back in the middle of the woods, that doesn’t necessarily mean the arms are CGI.

Conclusion: If Jeremy Renner never went sleeveless, I wouldn’t think twice about the CGI arms.

Renner’s Cast Exposed

At some point, though, Renner does go sleeveless, and this is where Tag and the surprising convincingness of Renner’s CGI arms starts falling apart. Observe this image of Renner tossing a donut at Ed Helms like a frisbee.

Jeremy REnner tossing a doughnut


Close-up of Jeremy Renner holding the doughnut with his cast exposed


Conclusion: This trailer, and potentially all of Tag, was poorly edited.

More Sleeveless Renner

Through the course of my analysis, I found myself rooting for Jeremy Renner and his broken Tag arms. It’s pretty cool that special effects are becoming so advanced that we can realistically construct virtual worlds and certain characters almost entirely from scratch. (That said, it was very creepy and unnecessary when Rogue One brought Peter Cushing back from the grave.) But CGI still has a long way to go when it comes to re-creating parts of the human body—be it mustaches or arms. As an example, I ask: Why are Jeremy Renner’s sleeveless arms slightly levitating off the table?

Jeremy Renner with his hands on a table

This isn’t the work of a deftly talented actor keeping his fingers precipitously close to the top of a table, but a subtle, yet undeniably strange CGI mishap that makes it seem like his hand has a life of its own.

Close-up of Jeremy’s hand seemingly levitating above the table

Also, Renner looks way more jacked here—too jacked for a character whose most defining characteristic is that he’s good at not getting tagged. I know this guy is an Avenger (well, Hawkeye), but the arms are unnecessarily yoked, to the point of calling attention to themselves, which is antithetical to making CGI arms. You don’t want people to pay attention to it, otherwise they’ll write 1,500-word blogs about how unrealistic they look! These arms looked unconvincing, and that was before Renner raised them in the air.

Conclusion: These are some fake-ass arms.

What are the findings of this study? Well, granularly, that Jeremy Renner is a damn liar who not only had his injuries digitally removed, but perhaps utilized CGI to enhance his arm size rather than create a faithful representation. But on a larger level, that CGI’ing entire arms for an entire movie is a difficult proposition. Tag was caught between a rock and a hard place here, and not because the gang switched things up and moved onto competitive hide-and-seek. Renner breaking not one, but both of his arms put the studio comedy in a bind, and no amount of technologically advanced CGI could fix what was literally broken without some sleeves to cover those arms. Now they have this movie that’s filled with weird limbs and ridiculously impractical outfits.

Was CGI really the best option? I’m not saying Jeremy Renner is an eminently replaceable actor, but with the injury happening three days into Tag’s production, would it not have been easier to replace Renner with an actor who had two regular, functioning arms? Were none of the Hollywood Chrises, or James Marsden, available?

Or maybe this was the plan all along. Maybe Warner Bros. saw a marketing opportunity. I didn’t think twice about a movie about playing tag, but now that I know Jeremy Renner filmed the whole thing with two green casts on his arms, I can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe Warner Bros. paid Hamm to spill about the injuries on Ellen. Maybe Ellen is involved in all of this and is getting a cut of the arm-fueled proceeds. Maybe this goes all the way to the top. Maybe I need to stop thinking about Jeremy Renner’s CGI arms and go to bed.