The ending of 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express had one of the most obvious and needy set-ups for a sequel that I’ve ever seen. After solving the titular crime, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) travels to Egypt for, and it becomes increasingly apparent that another mystery will soon be on his hands.
Five years (and a whole host of COVID-related delays) later, in 2022’s first murder mystery set on a boat in an exotic location (I have a sneaking suspicion the sequel to Knives Out will eclipse Death on the Nile this fall), Poirot is back, and it turns out the case from the end of Murder was just, shall we say, a red herring. The real case comes about two months later, when Poirot is invited to a Nile cruise on the honeymoon of a wealthy heiress (Gal Gadot) and her husband (Armie Hammer). Little do they know that soon enough, murder will strike again!
In many ways, Death on the Nile is an improvement on Murder on the Orient Express. It gives (at least a bit) more character to the lead detective, and the central mystery is very exciting, being significantly more twist-heavy than its predecessor.
Unfortunately, though, all is not perfect here. The editing is weirdly choppy, and most every exterior scene is bathed in horrendously ugly artificial lighting, surrounded by a CGI hellscape that can only dream of looking real. The interiors look gorgeous, though, and I really dug the aesthetic — it’s quite a jarring way of bringing us back in time, but I enjoyed the immersion in late 1930s Egypt.
The cast is another point of contention. Kenneth Branagh himself is excellent — it’s clear he truly cares for the character of Poirot, and intends to do him justice — and there are bright spots, but the rest of the cast is sadly average. Tom Bateman is the only returning cast member, reprising his role as Bouc from Murder, and the rest of the cast is appropriately comprised of A-listers, including (but not limited to) Gadot, Hammer, Annette Bening (American Beauty), Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones), Sophie Okendo (Hotel Rwanda), Letitia Wright (Black Panther) and Emma Mackey (Netflix’s Sex Education). Mackey and Bateman are the standouts here, chewing the scenery in the extremely entertaining way that makes dramatic murder mysteries like these work so well.
Additionally, Gadot, Hammer and Wright have all come under controversy for different reasons in the years since Death on the Nile was filmed, and I think this may be the last major motion picture for two of the aforementioned three. The fact that none were fully focused upon in the film’s recent marketing tells you all you need to know about the studio’s stance in the matter.
Despite its status as a sequel, I appreciated the “sameness” of Death on the Nile. It doesn’t feel the need to vastly differentiate in its execution of the mystery, which doesn’t necessarily bring it down; it also takes its time, much more than its predecessor, in establishing character, motivation and the factors that will soon come into play. The actual murder doesn’t happen until about an hour into the film, but it’s very well-paced and the final reveal was completely earned (if not predictable). It may not merit another sequel, but I could live in Branagh’s Christie universe for a long time. [Grade: B+]
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Michael Green
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Gal Gadot
Rated: PG-13 for violence, some bloody images, and sexual material
Fun Fact: Bouc (Tom Bateman) does not appear in the novel Death on the Nile, but was added in place of a similar character from the book.
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