Kamal Haasan is threatening to quit cinema for politics, and has suggested in some interviews that Vishwaroop II, the sequel to Vishwaroop (2013), will be among his final projects.

More than the bombs that are defused before they go bang and the inept Islamist terrorists who flub every opportunity that comes their way, this, then, is the real cause of the anguish faced by the millions who have admired the work Haasan has produced over his rich, lengthy career: that he would choose a damp squib for his staggered exit for another, bigger, stage, rather than departing amidst glorious fireworks.

A sequel that needn’t have existed, Vishwaroop II (Vishwaroopam II in the Tamil version) has been written and directed by Haasan. Vishwaroop II appears to be cobbled together from outtakes from the previous shoot, lengthy flashbacks to the first film and numerous sequences set indoors or inside vehicles, in addition to many scenes set against green screens. It’s clear that the characters are not always in the United Kingdom or wherever else they say they are. This film, similarly, is not what it claims to be.

The sequel takes off exactly where the first film ended. Wisam Ahmed Kashmiri (Haasan), the overachieving Research and Analysis Wing agent, has successfully prevented New York City from disappearing into a nuclear haze. Omar (Rahul Bose), the one-eyed mastermind of said aborted explosion, has disappeared into the skies with his henchman Salim (Jaideep Ahlawat).

Accompanied by his wife Nirupama (Pooja Kumar), fellow agent Ashmita (Andrea Jeremiah) and his boss Jagannath (Shekhar Kapur), Wisam sets out for a new adventure, billed as the “biggest non-nuclear explosion in the world”. It involves a high body count, doses of betrayal, more explosive devices and the return of Omar.

Another pressing matter for Wisam is to consummate his marriage with Nirupama, which had been stalled in the first movie because he had taken cover as a limp-wristed kathak dancer. Foreplay takes the form of bomb disposal (the frisson of fission) and elaborate hand-to-hand combat.

The writes of the film attempt to extract a tepid joke from the situation: RAW, an official grumbles, does not stand for Reception and Weddings.

Vishwaroop II (2018).

The flashbacks are extended to flesh out the back story of how Wisam became a RAW agent, but they add little to his character. Haasan frequently resorts to a device seen in Hollywood superhero films such as Watchmen (2009): characters are suddenly suspended mid-flight in tableaux while the camera whirls around them. The technique doesn’t contribute anything to the story, but it is at least visually arresting.

The backtracking ends up stretching out the already-lengthy 144-minute narrative. Only one sequence featuring Wisam’s mother, played by the ever-graceful Waheeda Rehman, hits the mark. The action sequences might have worked at the idea level, but their bargain-basement execution suggests that a bigger budget was needed for Vishwaroop II to have achieved its Bond-Bourne ambitions.

The leading man works hard to mask the fact that he’s celebrated 63 birthdays, but he doesn’t quite suggest Tom Cruise nor, for that matter, Kamal Haasan. The thespian in him is missing from a movie littered with ordinary performances. Only Rahul Bose’s hoarse-voiced Omar provides the campiness that could have salvaged the movie from its dire sense of self-importance.