Is this seriously the second film titled Swan Song to come out in 2021? In my opinion, the wrong one is getting all the acclaim. No, this will not be a Swan Song vs. Swan Song battle royale, but it does go without saying that both films have an incredible emotional depth to them. This one is also forced to compete against the same-day release date of Spider-Man: No Way Home. With both a shared title and a shared release date working against it, Swan Song was already fighting an uphill battle well before I even hit the play button. Despite a fantastic dual performance by two-time Oscar Winner, Mahershala Ali, as a dying man and his clone, Swan Song remains a middling sci-fi drama with some serious tonal inconsistencies.
After being diagnosed with a terminal illness, Cameron (Ali) explores an option to alleviate the pain of his wife and son—clone himself! Molecularly regenerated and mapped to his DNA, this copy of Cameron will have literally everything he has, from memories down to his behavioral patterns. Cameron’s doctor, Jo Scott (Glenn Close), insists that the only difference between Cameron and Nu-Cameron will be a freckle on his hand. “If you get confused, find the freckle, and you’ll know who you are,” she insists. When back home with his family and armed with the knowledge that his body is deteriorating, Cameron is forced into making a vital decision. To sacrifice for the ones he loves, or to selfishly hold onto his reality before it crumbles away completely.
The story is too straightforward of a drama with minimal twists or surprises. The sci-fi angle is barely there, peeking in for input only when entirely necessary. How can one create an enticing near-future world without diving deep enough to full establish it? If you think something sinister will bleed its way into the narrative, that simply is not the direction writer/director Benjamin Clearly chose to pursue. Worst of all, the wildly talented Awkwafina is wasted in a throwaway supporting role. Less a thriller than I would have hoped, Swan Song does a solid job at developing a believable world filled with characters one actually cares about. After the intriguing setup though, there is little meat left on the film’s metaphorical bones.
The concept of having a clone created to take over one’s life has been toyed with before, but never in this way. Glenn Close’s Jo Scott is a character I wish we got to see more from. Her introduction, which claims a human team of only three people and robot technicians that “do the work of about fifty people” layers on the mysterious possibilities. It does ultimately fail to go anywhere exciting, opting for small-stakes tragedy instead of high-stakes action thrills. Even though the movie is a mixed bag, Mahershala Ali’s two-pronged performance makes Swan Song worthy of at least a single watch.
Swan Song contemplates the meaning of life and legacy when it debuts on Apple TV+ on Friday, December 17th.