Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss return as Neo and Trinity in this Matrix fourquel, directed by Lana Wachowski. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the cast and a small handful of good moments, this is a chaotic mess that fails to justify its existence. Matthew Turner pulls the plug.

Despite long-standing rumours of a fourth Matrix movie, the Wachowski siblings had always previously refused a return to the franchise, saying they regarded the previous trilogy as complete. However, director Lana Wachowski was eventually persuaded to resurrect the concept and characters, citing a series of personal losses as the key motivating factor. Unfortunately, though it's not without its moments, the resulting film is all over the place, settling for a chaotic retread of films we've already seen, rather than attempting anything new.

The film begins 20 years after the events of The Matrix Revolutions (2003), with Neo (Keanu Reeves) living a seemingly normal life in San Francisco as Thomas Anderson, the world famous creator of The Matrix videogame trilogy. When his boss, Smith (Jonathan Groff, replacing Hugo Weaving) pressures him to come up with a sequel, Thomas begins experiencing Matrix-based hallucinations, for which his concerned therapist (Neal Patrick Harris) prescribes blue pills.

At the same time, Thomas keeps running into a woman named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), who appears to be Trinity, except she's married with children and doesn't recognise him. However, when a new version of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) appears and offers him a red pill, Thomas has his eyes reopened to the world of the Matrix and joins a band of rebels to combat a new threat. Lana Wachowski's stated intention with the fourth movie was to see Neo and Trinity resurrected on screen. In that, at least, the film succeeds, because there's no denying the nostalgic pleasure of seeing Reeves and Moss reunited and the characters' (and actors') obvious affection for each other drives the only bit of the plot that makes sense.

In fact, the performances – not just Reeves and Moss, but the entire cast – are the main reason to see the film. Groff and Abdul-Mateen are particularly good value as New Smith and New Morpheus, but there's also sterling work from Iron Fist's Jessica Henwick, who nails both her action sequences and large chunks of exposition (she's effectively the audience surrogate) and deserves to be a much bigger star after this.

There's also predictably great work from Neal Patrick Harris (clearly enjoying himself), and the film takes a borderline tongue-in-cheek pleasure in wheeling on characters from the previous movies, the highlight of which involves Lambert Wilson showing up randomly as the Merovingian (Partridge shrug gif, etc) and spouting absolute gibberish for a couple of scenes. In fairness, the first half an hour of the film is a lot of fun, particularly when the videogame company employees all sit around discussing what would make a great Matrix sequel and making some very close-to-the-bone meta jokes, at one point even name-checking Warner Bros and citing their insistence on a sequel.

The problem is that those meta sequences backfire considerably, because they're all talking about the need to make the sequel bigger and better, to come up with something that's as memorable as “bullet time” and the film singularly fails to do that. Ultimately, nothing in the film comes close to either topping or improving on the original film and that's basically the minimum requirement for a sequel.

The fight scenes are particularly disappointing. For one thing they're poorly edited, relying on quick cuts rather than letting full fight sequences play out and never coming close to replicating the highs of the fights in the first film, something that's not helped by the frequent use of clips from the other movies. Action-wise there's a decent motorbike chase that's heightened by a particularly grisly (and actually quite tasteless) special effect, but that's about it.