How Black Widow crafted an intricate motorcycle chase across Budapest
This story contains spoilers for Black Widow.
"Ultimately, the brief was to make it feel a bit more grounded and gritty than the standard Marvel Universe fighting stuff," stunt coordinator Rob Inch tells EW.
Partly that stems from the reality of Natasha Romanoff's (Scarlett Johansson) status as a hero. She's an Avenger, yes, but she doesn't have superpowers, and sadly, we know all too well that she's not immortal. That's also true of Yelena (franchise newcomer Florence Pugh), Natasha's sister by circumstance, if not blood.
The result is a product that feels more reminiscent of a Bourne or Mission: Impossible film than a standard MCU entry. Nowhere is that more evident than in the film's centerpiece car chase across Budapest, which finds Natasha and Yelena on the run from agents of the Red Room first on foot, then on motorbike, and finally in a hijacked car. They encounter numerous obstacles, including an armored military vehicle ready to mow down everything in its path.
Inch reveals that the initial Black Widow script only called for a "car chase" with little detail as to how it would unfold. But after six or seven scouting trips to Budapest, he and his team devised the final sequence on the screen.
"Inspiration comes from the environment," he says. "It starts off as a foot chase on a roof, it gets down onto the ground and goes into a motorbike chase, where we introduce this badass military truck vehicle. It was like ballet versus rugby — the ballet was the girls weaving and squeezing in and out of traffic on the motorbike. And then we had the brute force of a big truck just bulldozing everything out of the way."
Inch conceived of the idea of the motorcycle chase because he wanted to force Natasha and Yelena into close proximity with each other after their visceral fight at the safe house. "We liked the idea of the two sisters having to get close together pretty quickly after having a fight," he elaborated. "The mode of transport that you have to hold onto somebody and put your arms around them and all of a sudden be bonded — it's a motorbike."
He was inspired by what he calls "the best jump in any motorbike chase" in The Great Escape. But he wanted to use this concept of two protagonists on one bike as a way to set the stunt apart. "There's been lots of motorbike chases done, not many of them have been done with somebody sat on the back of your bike at the same time," he adds.
For that reason, this became the hardest stunt sequence to execute in the film. He had to find two stunt doubles who could ride believably together as Natasha and Yelena, and his team was responsible for shutting down streets in Budapest, managing background actors, and more. "We had the better part of 60 stunt performers out on the street and our background artists," he details. "We've got a big 15-ton military vehicle powering down the middle of the road with cars bouncing off it, left and right. We're responsible for people's well-being as much as trying to make the action look great, so it's trying to keep everybody in the mode of action but also make sure they're super safe."
Beyond the Budapest chase, Black Widow is riddled with stunt challenges. There's the Red Room's imposing Taskmaster, an enigmatic, robotic force that can mirror anyone it fights. "It can mirror people's styles which means there's no holds on that fight style," Inch notes. "There was no parameters — only our imagination. We brought in some Black Panther and stuff like that."
Then there's a bone-crunching moment where Natasha breaks her own nose. Inch credits that entirely to clever camera angles, sound design, and Johansson's acting ability.
But more than anything, it was about setting up Yelena and Natasha as sisters in action and in approach. The two sprung from the same training ground, the brutal Red Room, and consequently, they fight similarly (though Inch was sure to throw in physical nods to Yelena's mockery of Natasha's distinctive "posing" style).
He established their common roots in their first fight, a Russian-tumble brawl in their shared Budapest safe house. For Inch, it was crucial to convey both a capacity for violence and a clear instinct to hold back. "It's two sisters," he stresses. "We had to live in the world of they want to beat each other up, but they don't really want to kill each other."
Building that fight involved coordinating with the production design team to get the set dimensions and constructing a simplified outline of the set where they could choreograph, which Inch likens to a cardboard box. Then, they let the kitchen environment inspire them, putting in calls to the props department for tea towels and breadknives, as they devised what elements the women would turn to in the midst of their clash.
Yet Inch's favorite moment is actually a happy accident. "One of the girls throws her sister, and in the throw, she was supposed to go through this doorway," he explains. "We had a breakaway door there, but on the way through it, her foot went through the glass — which was breakaway as well — but it was an accident. Stuff like that looks so cool when it's not supposed to happen."
But you still shouldn't try it at home, no matter how much your siblings aggravate you.