After multiple delays, courtesy of COVID-19, Kenneth Branagh’s sequel to his Murder on the Orient Express adaptation is finally available in theaters. Recently, I finally watched the first installment which, for some reason, I never got around to watching when it was first released five years ago. While I enjoyed the film and found it entertaining and intriguing, I feel that the superior adaptation is the 1974 movie that director Sidney Lumet helmed.

Now, I have never managed to watch the 1978 version of Death on the Nile, but I certainly hope to do so someday. As for this new adaptation by Branagh, the film mostly disappoints. The movie takes way too long to get the story going and fails to offer any intriguing moments until the point when the murder mystery portion begins. On top of this, Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green have chosen to include some backstory on protagonist Hercule Poirot, which is rather tedious and pointless to say the least.

After this poorly conceived and written prologue, the movie flashes forward to a point in time following the events of the previous movie. Hercule Poirot (Branagh) has earned himself some much needed rest and relaxation. He finds himself in a lively London nightclub where he encounters some of the main players of his soon-to-be next murder mystery.

After meeting the charming and alluring Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), her fiancee Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), and her good friend Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). Five years would pass before he would see these fascinating people again, and under some rather unusual circumstances. Poirot gets invited the lavish wedding between Linnet and Simon, which takes place in the exotic locale of Egypt. After the jilted ex-fiancee Jacqueline decides to crash the wedding, the newlyweds and their guests decide to take a boat cruise on the Nile. A trip, during which, one of the key players will get mysteriously murdered.

The good thing about Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express is that it wastes little time and effectively introduces and develops the ensemble cast. That is exactly where this movie fails. The bloated and overly lengthy first acts definitely take away from keeping the audience invested in the characters that by the time the bloodshed begins it is rather difficult to care about any of these people.

Branagh may as well have begun his film with a video tour of Egypt, the Nile and the beautiful scenery the area has to offer. The first acts slog along at a dull pace and the development of all of the characters, save that of Hercule Poirot, is handled poorly. On top of this most of the actors perform rather poorly.

While Gal Gadot is usually charismatic and likable, her performance as Linnet Ridgeway is very dull, wooden, and weak. As Linnet’s husband, Simon Doyle, Hammer has his good moments, but also has some terrible ones where he ridiculously overacts. The movie has some okay work by Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Rose Leslie, and Letitia Wright, but there is nothing about their acting here that deserves rave reviews.

Branagh is probably the main highlight, as he has very good grasp on the Hercule Poirot character, an intelligent, but snobby and pompous detective who always seems to solve his cases. Another high point is Sophie Okonedo who stars as sultry blues singer Salome Otterbourne. I also rather enjoyed the acting of Emma Mackey and Jennifer Saunders.

Now, after I just skewered this movie, for the most part, it probably seems strange that I gave it a rating of two stars. Regardless of the lousy beginning and midling middle, the murder mystery does have its moments, though it is mostly clear who the villain is. Still, I wanted to see how everything finally plays out. I did so, not because I actually cared about these characters, but because I wanted the satisfaction that I was correct.

And I was mostly correct. I cannot elaborate in the way I was incorrect, because that would spoil the movie. Let me just say, that it is fairly easy to figure out some of what actually happens. This is yet another failure from a movie that should also have surprises, twists, and turns. The only way that this movie surprises is that the studio still went with a theatrical release and didn’t go straight to streaming.

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