It is Russia's most expensive film – including graphic tank battles, murderous Germans and a forgettable cameo by a pasty-looking Stalin.
But the Kremlin's favourite actor and director, Nikita Mikhalkov, was tonight facing embarrassment after his long-awaited film about the second world war – Burnt by the Sun 2 – turned out a box office turkey.
The movie is a sequel to Burnt by the Sun, Mikhalkov's dark Oscar-winning portrayal of the Stalin years. In the latest film, the action shifts to the Nazi invasion of Russia, with Mikhalkov reprising his role as a purged Red Army general.
This time, Mikhalkov's character, Sergei Kotov, escapes after German bombers blow up his gulag. He is soon defending the motherland from fascist tanks. Russia's critics, however, have reacted badly to the blockbuster – dismissing it as "portentous and untruthful".
Writing on his blog, cinema critic Yuri Gladilshikov noted war veterans had said it did not resemble their experience of fighting at the front.
"There are a heap of reasons to dislike it," Gladilshikov wrote, citing the film's brutal battlefield naturalism, its promotion of orthodox Christianity, and a gratuitous topless scene involving Mikhalkov's daughter Nadia, who repeats her previous acting job as Kotov's daughter.
The critics have also taken a swipe at a clumsy state-backed PR campaign to promote the film. It has been deliberately released ahead of May 9, when Russia celebrates the 65th anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany.
The premiere took place inside the Kremlin. Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, did not manage to turn up. But Mikhalkov's fervent support for Putin and his strong Russian nationalist views are well known.
The film has many virtuoso setpieces but sticks closely to the Kremlin's approved version of the war: as the heroic Soviet triumph over Nazi barbarity.
This fact appears to have put the public off: the film has played to near empty halls, with box office receipts of just $2.5m from its opening weekend. Burnt by the Sun 2 cost a record $55m to make.
"The reasons it has flopped are psychological [not artistic]," critic Oleg Zolotarev said. "Mikhalkov is no longer seen as a director but as a state bureaucrat."