You’ve heard of the Oscars, but have you heard of the Isaacs? The Isaac Awards, in honor of the great Oscar Isaac, are Showbiz Cheat Sheet’s unique spin on the Academy Awards. However, the Isaac Awards are different from the Oscars in that they celebrate the best movies of 2021 that deserve recognition but will not receive that recognition through Oscar nods. The 2022 Isaac Awards feature five categories: Best Performance, Best Scene-Stealer, Best Crowd-Pleasing Moment, Best Action Sequence, and Fan-Favorite Movie. Voting will be open via this form from March 7-20. Winners will be announced on March 24.
Back in 1999, The Matrix raised the bar for action filmmaking. So the stunt team on the fourth film, 2021’s The Matrix Resurrections had quite the challenge ahead as they plugged Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss back into the franchise. Stunt coordinator Stephen Dunlevy spoke to Showbiz Cheat Sheet about how the production team crafted the wild action of The Matrix Resurrections, including the Isaac Award-nominated motorcycle chase.
‘The Matrix Resurrections’ features a ton of practical effects
Thankfully for director Lana Wachowski and her team, The Matrix Resurrections had already completed filming on the motorcycle chase sequence and the iconic building jump (more on that later) before the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the production. Some fans might assume the film’s action is mostly done with visual effects in post-production. But Dunlevy confirmed that Wachowski insisted on making the action as real as possible.
“Some of the things we had to overcome, it’s real. The motorcycle obviously goes through a fireball. We have to recreate what looks like a Force blast around it so that the fire goes over. Lana [Wachowski, the director], to her credit, was like, ‘I want to do this practically.’ So they had to design a clear shield that didn’t affect the aerodynamics in a way that you could ride the bike and still have two people on it and go through this block. It’s a credit to the stunt team, the special effects team and our action vehicles team. We created it.”
During the sequence, Neo (Reeves) and Trinity (Moss) are pursued by agents and eventually countless “bots” who attack them on the street and begin raining down from the nearby buildings. While computers were used to remove wires and rigs, the sequence required dozens of stunt people to be affected by Neo’s abilities. And an interconnected system was integrated to align with the visual effects that would be added in post-production.
Stephen Dunlevy and company had a ‘curfew’ for filming in San Francisco
Then, of course, The Matrix Resurrections had to contend with shooting on location in San Francisco. At night, Reeves, Moss, and the entire production team were busy blowing up vehicles, bringing in helicopters, and balancing an extensive team of stunt performers and extras. But as Dunlevy said, they had to clear out before the sun came up. And that fact in and of itself posed additional challenges in the design of the stunt rigs used in the scene.
“You can’t shut down San Francisco during the day. Everything had to be off the streets. We had a curfew. So anything we designed, it just couldn’t lock down there and sit there. So everything was self-contained within a flatbed truck that we turned into a box truck with all of our systems contained inside of that, much to the credit of the amazing stunt team. And then we’ve got ratchets going on. We got people being blown through the street and everything like that. So you’re combining a massive amount of elements.”
Filming such an ambitious sequence would be challenging in any circumstances. But bringing the biggest action setpiece of the very self-aware story of The Matrix Resurrections to life on the real streets of San Francisco made it even more difficult. As Dunlevy said, the production couldn’t destroy anything that wasn’t part of their own setup. And safety remained the primary concern for all involved so that they could return and do it all again the next night.
Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss jumped off a building
The biggest safety concern came at the tail end of the motorcycle chase sequence. With nowhere to run, Neo and Trinity make it to a rooftop and decide to leap off hand in hand. Remarkably, Reeves and Moss performed this jump in real life. Although filming the building jump was almost canceled, Dunlevy emphasizes this was by far the wildest bit of stunt work featured in The Matrix Resurrections, even moreso since the actors did it themselves.
“Not everyone knows that that building jump is a real jump. That’s Carrie-Anne [Moss] and Keanu [Reeves] jumping off a 500-foot building. They were 50 stories up. Now it’s one thing to do that with stunt doubles. … They haven’t necessarily chosen that line of work. It has to be very mindful that we have these two amazing people that trusted us immensely to do that gag. … I think the shot in the film just speaks for itself.”
Reeves and Moss underwent intense preparation involving the actors rigged up and jumping off of shipping containers. Once they reached 50 feet high, the pair attempted the real thing. With just one functional service elevator, Dunlevy and the entire production team moved from the streets to the top of that building for that shot. And with a ton of safeguards in place, the most memorable moment in The Matrix Resurrections was realized.