The John Wick franchise is one of the most well-respected current action franchises, thanks in large part to its inventive, visceral hand-to-hand combat and action sequences. Death is often bloody and swift, but John Wick manages to make violence look like a choreographed dance even as it pulls no punches about the brutality of it all.
The lion’s share of credit goes to directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, who was uncredited for his directing work on John Wick but was credited as a producer. But each has solid action directing credits under their belts: Aside from John Wick, Leitch has also directed Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2 and Hobbs & Shaw. Stahelski, meanwhile, has gone on to direct the next two John Wick films and has a number of projects in the works.
The two longtime stuntmen and stunt coordinators arguably kicked off the trend in recent years of former stuntmen turning to directing their own films, the most recent example being Netflix’s Extraction, the feature directorial debut of longtime Marvel stunt coordinator, Sam Hargrave. But soon, both will be returning to the franchise that really opened the door for them in Hollywood: The Matrix.
Speaking to Collider, Stahelski confirmed that both he and Leitch will be returning to help out on the action side of things with the fourth Matrix movie:
“They asked us to help out with the choreography and some of the physical training for the guys. I’m helping out a little bit for a sequence, I think Dave’s helping out for a sequence. Lana’s come back with a lot of love to have a pseudo-family reunion, so that’s been a lot of fun. It’s been good to see a lot of the crew members again. We just finished doing a sequence in San Francisco before the pandemic started.”
That being said, Stahelski stressed that their role would be more conceptual and as consultants rather than the hands-on coordinators. That’s because Lana Wachowski is one of the increasingly rare directors who prefers to direct her own action sequences. Plenty of filmmakers don’t, which is why they require second unit directors, mainly stunt guys, to come in and coordinate and direct action sequences. But Stahelski said that even on the first three Matrix movies, the second unit directors were there mostly because of the logistics involved and not because the Wachowskis weren’t comfortable directing action. Lana, in particular, has an eye for it. “[O]f late, and especially on Matrix 4, she’s directing her own action,” Stahelski explained. “The second units for them are mostly establishing shots, the B-sides of some of the compositions for some locations. But Lana, she does her own action. She weaves it into the main unit stuff, which is why their stuff looks so good.”
Still, consulting or not, it’s exciting to see Leitch and Stahelski back working on the franchise that put them both on the map and introduced them to Keanu Reeves. Stahelski, a former kickboxer and martial artist, started out as Reeves’ stunt double in the first Matrix movie before becoming the martial arts stunt coordinator on the second and third films. Journeyman Leitch, who also has a background in martial arts, was on the stunt teams for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.
Also, random Hollywood fact about Stahelski? When Brandon Lee was accidentally killed on the set of The Crow in 1993, just a few days away from completing the shoot, Stahelski, his friend, was the one called in to finish Lee’s scenes.
The last Matrix movie might have gone sideways with the story, but if the fourth film gets back to its roots with telling a simple but effective story and elevating the visuals, the fourth movie might be as much of a visual gamechanger as the original one was.