The Burly Brawl is a scene in 2003 movie The Matrix Reloaded. Its name probably ties in with the codename under which Reloaded and its sequel The Matrix Revolutions were produced: "Burly Man". The Burly Brawl is probably the most recognisable scene in the movie and the most tantalising one to appear in the teasers and trailers for it prior to its release on May 15, 2003.
For reasons which it would be redundant to list here when such excellent synopses exist elsewhere, Neo (a human; the One, able to reshape The Matrix as he sees fit; our hero; played by Keanu Reeves) and Agent Smith (a computer program; a renegade agent of the system, some of his programming overwritten with a semblance of free will and now having his own motives; the bad guy; played by Hugo Weaving) face off against each other in a deserted, concrete-laid inner-city playing area. It is not the first time they have fought in the Matrix trilogy, nor will it be the last. But there is a twist.
Smith has developed the ability to clone himself onto other people in the Matrix. Once there was one Smith, now eight accost Neo and try to do the same thing to him: to turn him into a Smith. Defeating the hack/virus/trojan/worm, Neo begins to fight all eight. Proving impossible to take down, more and more newly-assimilated Smiths arrive to try to defeat him through weight of numbers until we reach the iconic scenario of Neo - having ripped a six foot metal pole out of the ground in order to level the playing field somewhat - taking on a hundred Agents Smith simultaneously.
It looked fantastic in the trailers. Five-second clips from the scene never fail to be devastatingly impressive. But the fact is, the scene lacked.
I'll give you that the moves (choreographed by legendary Hong Kong fight choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping) were generally astounding. The dodging, the blocking, the twisting. Sticking a pole in the ground and kicking nineteen Smiths in the face consecutively. Just the pole generally. But only on the part of Neo. Next time, watch the Smiths - all his clever moves from the last movie have vanished. It's swing-in-with-a-big-punch, time and time and time again, except that each time, Neo finds a new and imaginative and cool-looking way to get rid of the offending agent. They don't behave like smart agents. They behave like cannon fodder. When the numbers reach a hundred and Neo's completely surrounded, they even start to attack him one at a time instead of mobbing him! (And did you hear the dominoes sound effect?)
The photography in the fight was good. The camera pulls off some stunningly impossible moves - swooping from normal speed to uber-slow-mo to half-normal for a moment to swing around, then scaling smoothly back up to normal, then going to bullet-time for a stunning moving shot with Neo's coat swirling behind him, then back to normal again. But there were some odd movements that didn't really work. The first jump Neo makes with the pole spinning around him reminded me eerily of Harry Potter. Some people also disliked the CGI; I didn't notice any (I knew it was there, of course), which counts for a success in my book.
But it makes no sense. Neo can fly, so why doesn't he? Stay in the air and kick heads from where the agents would have difficulty reaching him. He has control over matter - witness the Chateau fight later in the movie where he causes a pair of daggers to fly from the wall into his hands - so why not try to control the Smiths, pin them in place? Why not manipulate the pole telekinetically, or levitate and hurl the concrete paving stones en masse?
And here's the killer: there was no tension. The point of an action scene is not merely to provide eye candy. There's a reason they say "edge-of-the-seat". In this scene, when a Smith is knocked down, he gets up again - having taken no damage. No blood, no bruise, no breakage; all the punches and kicks fall flat, like there's no power behind them. The same goes for Neo for the few hits he takes. He just gets right on up again like nothing happened. Nobody's almost winning. If you were to chart who had the advantage in this fight, it'd start exactly in between Neo and Smith and stay there for the whole fight, a straight line, dipping slightly towards Smith at the end when they mob Neo. Nobody even wins! They fight and fight and fight and eventually Neo decides he can't win and leaves.
In fairness, that was the point of the scene - to demonstrate to the viewer and to Neo that neither side could win (a deadlock not broken until the climactic scene of Revolutions). But most people say the scene is (at five minutes) way too long for a fight sequence, and it's certainly too long to waste on a sequence which has a complete cop-out ending.
Most of these niggles were rectified for the aforementioned climactic scene of The Matrix Revolutions, AKA the Super Burly Brawl, which I might node later if nobody beats me to it.
Burly Brawl is also the name of the audio track played over the scene, which was created by collaboration between Reloaded's composer Don Davis and trance/ambient artist Juno Reactor. The rapidly accelerating techno beat as the fight intensifies from stage to stage, backed with Davis' familiar Matrix orchestral theme, is in some ways more enjoyable than the scene itself. It appears as track six on disc two of The Matrix Reloaded : The Album, and is 5:52 in length.