One of the trends in the film industry that has always managed to catch the attention of movie patrons is film franchises and sequels. Recently there has been an onslaught of prequels, sequels, and new installments in big named franchises such as Scream, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man, and many more. Included in this list is the recent 20th Century Fox blockbuster film, Death on the Nile, which stars and is directed by Kenneth Branagh, alongside powerhouse names such as Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, and Russel Brand, just to name a few.
Death on the Nile Overview
Death on the Nile is based on the 1937 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie and is a sequel to the 2017 film by Branagh, Murder on the Orient Express. It is one of the many novels based on the character Hercule Poirot and his exploits as a famous detective in the 1930s. This film centers on yet another case of Poirot as he is supposedly on vacation in Egypt. He is invited to join a newlywed’s celebration onboard a river cruise along the Nile River but things turn for the worse when mysterious murders occur on board which in turn makes everyone into an immediate suspect. It is then revealed that every person has a personal vendetta and possible interior motive for performing such a heinous act and it’s up to Poirot to discover the truth before it’s too late.
Death on the Nile Spoiler Warnings
This review will, for the most part, be spoiler-free and will specifically tackle the overall nature and mood of the movie as well as some of the evident mishaps in its story and visuals.
An Intentionally Confusing Film
It’s rare for films to aim for an overall confusing atmosphere but Death on the Nile, as a mystery-thriller film, rightfully and strategically achieves this. It’s a movie that keeps viewers on their toes as it often diverts our attention to what is truly happening. Just as we suspect for things to turn out one particular way, Death on the Nile, like a magic trick, provides us a fantastic illusion through the detective tactics and prowess of Poirot and all the other characters in the film. Each one, including the detective himself, has more to them than meets the eye, and what makes this film successful is that it constantly makes each person a suspect which in turn creates doubt on our part as viewers. I personally had my initial suspicions but it often switched and turned with every scene that followed.
Despite the film’s ability to confuse and leave viewers confounded by who is actually the mastermind behind the murders and the true motives behind the entire exploits in the film, I must warn you that there is a predictable nature to it all. It is engaging but still very straightforward. The confusing nature was done as a means to deter viewers but sadly the source material is still nonetheless simple and straight-to-the-point. As much as we would want to veer away from any comparisons from the first film, we ultimately find it difficult to do so. The twists in Murder on the Orient Express are just jaw-dropping compared to this one which made the overall experience for Death on the Nile a tad bit on the underwhelming side.
All that said, the film managed to draw out the best from the source material just enough to still keep the story engaging and interesting to see despite its ending and underwhelming “twist” reveal. There are redeeming moments however that do still provide added elements of thrill, shock, and awe which in turn still creates a satisfying enough mystery film. Even if the payout for the big twist came as an underwhelming experience, there were some moments still that stole the show and steered the film in positive directions.
More and Less Of A Mystery
Speaking of the film’s standing as a thriller and suspense film, I must admit that the overall tonality of the film didn’t really capture it as much as I had hoped for. In retrospect, the direction of Kenneth Branagh, even with the first film was seen not as a full-on serious thriller. It’s incomparable in that sense with typical films under the said genre. There is a light-paced nature to it that’s not really comedic but for some reason, it isn’t a hardcore serious thriller-mystery either as it is rid of any ominous musical scorings or “at the edge of your seat” moments. In its essence, it is a mystery film but one that lacks personality and drive from a central character. This makes the overall mood and direction a bit scattered in turn lacking a full sense of identity.
There seemed to be a desire to create Poirot as a more modern version of Sherlock Holmes but in the process completely fell short. For this film, Poirot is seen as a more accurate and realistic version of a true detective. There is a certain imperfection to him and his uncertainties with the truth behind the case show this. Unlike the previous film, it is apparent that the detective seems to have lost his edginess and valuable character allure with this installment as there were moments that his charm and presence weren’t truly felt despite being the true star of the film.
This however doesn’t just fall on Kenneth Branagh’s hands as the entire cast seemed to have felt the wrong cards with this film. Don’t get me wrong, the cast as a whole did the best they could with the roles that they were given but there were some that simply weren’t that convincing enough. As a mystery film, things played out honestly in a very obvious manner and lacked the elements to truly make it captivating. As a film that places emphasis on other characters with possible internal motives to commit such crimes, it was still pretty blatant with how the story unfolds until the very end.
The visual appeal of Death on the Nile, just like the story took us on a wild rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. There were some moments that were truly breathtaking which were met with mediocre and truly devastating choices as well. Overall the backdrop of a 30s version of Egypt was done remarkably well. There were some shots that looked over-the-top thanks to CGI which in turn made it look a bit too superficial. The grand set pieces however such as the incredible river cruise ship helped create an atmosphere that truly captured the desired time period. Pair that with the costume designs, hair and makeup then that’s where this film must truly be commended for as it served as a great Time Machine of sorts with the rich, famous, and elite.
The biggest concern I have however goes back to how the film handled the use of CGI effects. I found it unnecessary and misused at times considering how far we have gone with technology. The first sign of such misuse came early on with a terrible application of dealing techniques for Kenneth Branagh for a flashback scene. It was painful to see as it was mediocre and unpolished. These would eventually be seen throughout some parts of the film as well but it wasn’t as terrible as those first few moments at the very start of the film.
Death on the Nile Review Final Verdict
Coming from a somewhat successful first film with Murder on the Orient Express, I came into Death on the Nile with admitted high expectations for repetitive success. I must however admit that it fell into the trap of the sequel phenomenon, proving to be a less impressive addition to the franchise. It was sadly underwhelming with some of its parts providing some fun and excitement but again ultimately being a tad bit forgettable at times. It had its shining moments and overall can still be enjoyable if you intentionally choose to look past its somewhat meaty flaws.
I give Death on the Nile a score of 6. It’s still worth the watch but may not be the direct go-to film. It has its shining moments and succeeds as a mystery film with the intent to confuse and mislead you as you watch despite its somewhat predictable and direct-to-the-point flow.
With the vast number of novels that Agatha Christie has written, there are still endless possible sequels that could follow down the line that Branagh can opt to translate onto the big screen, and here’s to hoping for better execution for those possible films. That’s because, in all honesty, there is still a likable quality to Poirot and this type of story which we honestly hope to see more of in the future.
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