Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) returns to London via the opulent Orient Express - and finds himself solving a brutal murder aboard the train, where every passenger is a potential suspect.
The problem with adapting seminal and influential works is that there's been such an abundance of works between their first release and now that it very often feels like they're retreading the same steps or covering the same ground. John Carter is perhaps the most glaring example of this - responsible for influencing George Lucas' Star Wars and about a dozen other space operas you can think of, and the film itself felt like a weaker copy of the films it influenced. The way around this is to come at the influential work with a new perspective and a fresh, not simply reshoot it beat for beat and with a jazzier, splashier cast.
Pulling double-duty as director and star, Kenneth Branagh's Poirot is far less statelier than David Suchet's TV version and seems to be drawing on Albert Finney's take from the far superior 1974 version. He's introduced in the opening act with a display of his investigatory prowess, but ultimately ends up looking like something you've seen before in a thousand crime procedurals - the most obvious suspect never being the one you'd suspect, and so on. Before long, he's off to Istanbul and on the Orient Express where a brutal murder of a deeply unsavoury character means he's back in the job.
The star-studded cast - which includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi and Hamilton alum Leslie Odom, Jr. - are all clearly trying to make their mark in the film rather than working together for an ensemble performance. Pfeiffer's American socialite is a gas, Daisy Ridley's governess is an impossibly polite beacon of light, Willem Dafoe plays a screaming racist with the worst Austro-German accent since Michael Caine in The Eagle Has Landed - it's all too much and what happens is that none of them standout in any kind of meaningful way. The only performance that's really worth talking about is the always reliable Olivia Colman, precisely because she gives such a muted performance with a subtlety that the rest of the cast - indeed, the rest of the film - sorely wants for.
That said, Kenneth Branagh knows how to make the era look glossy, opulent and sexy and the cinematography and production design really is beautiful and the cinema screen just soaks it all up with relish. However, the lack of grace or any kind of nuance from Michael Green's flat screenplay or Branagh's rote direction means that Murder On The Orient Express chugs along in a predictable fashion and winds up exactly where you think it was going.
It may look pretty, but there's not enough steam to keep the film from derailing itself. Train puns!