Success breeds success and one murder investigation surely follows another. Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile comes after his money-spinning adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel Murder on the Orient Express in 2017. The new movie sees Branagh return as Hercule Poirot, Christie’s delightful Belgian detective who applies his grey cells to intricately plotted crimes.

An early black-and-white sequence makes us think that we are in Belfast, Branagh’s other movie from 2021. Among the rewrites to the original Christie book is a back story that explains Poirot’s impressive moustache as well as locates the heart beating inside the fearsome mental machine.

One of Christie’s finest page-turners, Death on the Nile centres on the murder of the heiress Linette. Married to a man once engaged to her childhood friend, Linette turns out to have many more enemies than her rival in love.

The production stars Gal Gadot as Linette, Armie Hammer as her husband Simon and Anna Mackey as Chris’s former lover Jacqueline. The movie is set in the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929. After having lost Linette to Simon, the distraught Jacqueline obsessively follows the couple around, including to their honeymoon in Egypt.

Jacqueline should be the prime suspect after Linette is found dead, but she has an ironclad alibi. Not so with others on the Karnak steamboat, which has now become a crime scene.

Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot in Death on the Nile (2022). Courtesy 20th Century Studios.

The list of suspects is shorter than in the novel, and of a greater variety too. Like in Murder on the Orient Express, Michael Green’s screenplay for Death in the Nile addresses contemporary concerns about diversity in representation.

Two of the major roles are played by British Black actors – Sophie Okenodo as the singer Salome and Letitia Wright as her niece Rosalie. The soundtrack is bursting with blues and jazz. Race is a part of the conversation, as is the chasm between the fortunate few and the unfortunate many.

Christie’s novel has previously been adapted as a Hollywood film in 1978, starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot. That movie featured an Indian actor: IS Johar played Mr Choudhury, a comic character who was added to the list of suspects simply because he was fun to have around.

The new movie also has an Indian in the cast – Ali Fazal, as Linette’s overwrought cousin Andrew. The prominent faces in Death in the Nile include Annette Bening as Linette’s godmother Euphemia, Tom Bateman as Euphemia’s son Bouc, and Rose Leslie as Linette’s maid.

Death on the Nile (2022).

The movie is all dressed up with somewhere to go – an armchair vacation for the coronavirus pandemic-restrained viewer as well as a half-hearted cautionary tale about wealth and social privilege. It’s so gorgeous looking that even the extras are impeccably clad and blood leaves an elegant pattern on the wall.

Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who also shot Branagh’s Belfast, uses large-format lenses to create stunning vistas of ancient splendour and modern opulence. Visual effects supervisor George Murphy recreates Egypt as it might have been at the time – with fewer tourists and more direct views of the country’s architectural marvels.

Somewhere within the handsome production design (by Jim Green) and envy-inducing costumes (by Paco Delgado), a devilishly clever crime struggles to come to the surface. The murder itself is almost incidental to the scene-setting, making its entrance nearly an hour into the 127-minute narrative.

The suspense factor is woefully low despite no shortage of events to draw from. The movie lacks Agatha Christie’s serrated portraits of the British character, which were as enjoyable as her endless supply of twists. Only Armie Hammer, perfectly cast as a man capable of driving women out of their senses, and Sophie Okenodo stand out in the list of passengers on the Karnak.

Kenneth Branagh’s investigator wisely avoids trying to match the brilliance of David Suchet’s portrayal in the British television series Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Branagh reaches instead for Poirot’s understanding of human psychology and the empathy that lurks beneath the clinical manner.

His latest Agatha Christie adaptation is as dazzling as a display of fireworks and as fleeting as the trail of smoke that it leaves behind. Death on the Nile is entertaining but not ingenious enough – a mystery movie in search of a genuine sense of mystery.

Death on the Nile (2022).