Death on the Nile (2022)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Michael Green
Starring: Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, and Letitia Wright
Review: Who doesn’t like a good murder mystery? And, for over a hundred years now, it’s impossible to speak of good mysteries without mentioning Agatha Christie and, more specifically, her Hercule Poirot novels. As with most popular classics, they have been adapted time and time again. Most recently, Kenneth Branagh has taken up the role of directing the adaptations, while also playing the role himself. Death on the Nile is his second film in this franchise after 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, which I found quite enjoyable. Like that previous movie, this one is full of big-time actors chewing the scenery, trying to prove their innocence, until Poirot finally figures it out in the end. It’s a formula that’s been used time and time again, but, again, works pretty well here.
First things first, I really enjoy the overall feel of Death on the Nile. It’s just the right level of cheese. It feels like a classic B-movie that you’d accidentally stumble upon at three o’clock in the morning on TMC. But, not one that you’d change because you’d just be drawn in. A lot of that has to do with Branagh’s performance as Poirot. With his gigantic mustache and sometimes barely understandable French accent, he’s almost a cartoon character. But, Branagh makes it work. You believe that this is a real, albeit eccentric, person. And, in this one, you get to know the character on a deeper level, which only makes him work more. It’s not just Poirot that feels over the top and campy in all the right ways though. I love the absolute stretch Christie must’ve had to go through to even make these plots work. Like, how many different scenarios can you possibly think of where not only does someone get away with murder at first, but there are a dozen people (most played by big-name actors) with motives locked into the same locale? It’s ridiculous in all the right ways. Plus, the visual of a bunch of 1930s rich assholes cruising down the Nile River completely at each other’s throats, while stopping occasionally to attempt murder at the pyramids. There’s also no denying that this movie is incredibly sexy. The way Armie Hammer was dancing with his love interests? God damn! I haven’t seen dancing so dirty since Baby got put in the corner. Throw in an overcomplicated twist at the end. And *chef’s kiss* you’ve got yourself a perfectly cornball murder mystery premise.
I do have to admit though. I did not care for this one as much as I did the 2017 original. Why? I haven’t quite nailed that down, but I’ve got a few working theories. First of all, this one felt like it really dragged in the middle, which is something I don’t remember from the previous movie. While he was interviewing the suspects, I just felt bored by the fourth or fifth one. Especially when I feel like they didn’t really have much of a motive. Like, I understand why a detective would still interview them, but did we, the audience, have to see it? There’s one in particular that comes to mind with a revelation that mostly just had me shrugging. But, honestly, at least a handful could’ve easily been cut without us losing much. Second, and kind of related, this cast isn’t nearly as stacked as Orient Express’s was. You go down that cast list and it’s just heavy hitter after heavy hitter. On this one, there are more than a couple of people that I had to look up. One of which was a very pleasant surprise. I’ve never heard of Emma Mackey before, but I thought she was such a threatening presence as the scorned lover, set on torturing the newlyweds. And, I was very impressed with Letitia Wright, who proved that her charisma as Shuri in the MCU isn’t a one-off. But, as for almost everyone else… let’s just say this could’ve benefitted from a few more heavy hitters. Then, lastly, the reason that Death on the Nile 1000% couldn’t help. In 2017, Murder on the Orient Express seemed like a pleasant throwback to movies that we don’t really get anymore. Well, in 2019, we not only got another movie almost exactly like that but one that felt innovative, fresh, and very 21st century. That movie, of course, is Knives Out. Rainn Johnson’s absolute masterclass in murder mysteries made Branagh’s first movie look quaint, which means that the already inferior sequel is going to look even worse upon comparison. That’s the problem with making something that feels old-fashioned on purpose. When something fresh comes along, your product feels dated. It may not seem fair, but it is what it is.
All of that being said, I did still enjoy most of Death on the Nile. It was a fun, cheesy romp that had me entertained through most of the runtime. Plus, I’m always going to be down for a movie with this much style. I hope Branagh keeps making these movies because I’ll keep watching them. Even if they’re middle of the road like this one. Because, like I said at the start, who doesn’t like a good murder mystery?
TL;DR: While still entertaining, Death on the Nile feels like it’s missing a few ingredients that made its predecessor work so well.
Score: 6/10 (Ok)