Celebrities and royals walk the red carpet in central London on Tuesday for the star-studded but much-delayed world premiere of the latest James Bond film, "No Time To Die".
British actor Daniel Craig's fifth and final outing in the blockbuster franchise hits big screens after its release was repeatedly postponed during the coronavirus pandemic.
The film will premiere at London's historic Royal Albert Hall, with royal couples Prince Charles and Camilla and Prince William and Kate set to attend.
It is part of a backlog of major productions held back by distributors during the pandemic, hitting cinemas hard, and forcing some new films to be streamed.
The release will be in cinemas only, with struggling theatres hoping Bond will lure back crowds.
"There's a great deal of expectation surrounding this film," Craig acknowledged ahead of the premiere, saying he wanted "hopefully to give the industry some sort of boost".
"Cinema is here to stay as far as I'm concerned and if we can help in some way, I'll be very happy," he added.
Vue Entertainment, the UK branch of the cinema operator Vue International, hailed the movie's release as "the cinematic event of the year".
It will go on general release in Britain on Thursday and in the United States on October 8 -- a year and a half behind schedule.
Craig bows out
In the film, reportedly costing $250 million (£182 million, 214 million euros), Bond returns to active service after retirement, vowing: "I have to finish this."
He deploys his trademark hi-tech gadgets in spectacular scenery in Italy and Norway while battling the villainous Safin, played by Oscar-winner Rami Malek ("Bohemian Rhapsody").
"I get shot and then I get blown up. It feels like James Bond to me," Craig said in an official podcast.
With Craig bowing out, calling the role "a massive part" of his life, speculation has mounted over who will inherit his fabled licence to kill.
UK bookmakers are tipping the likes of Tom Hardy ("The Revenant", "Dunkirk") or Rege-Jean Page, the mixed-race star of the Netflix hit "Bridgerton".
Craig, 53, has held onto the role longer than any of his predecessors since his 2006 debut in "Casino Royale".
He has won praise for adding depth and emotional complexity to the all-action role, but only reluctantly agreed to one final appearance as Bond.
After "Spectre" in 2015, Craig told Time Out magazine he would rather "slash his wrists" than reprise the role but recently apologised for appearing flippant.
Emmy-winning US filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga directed the new film, becoming the first American to helm the franchise.
His previous films include a 2011 adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre".
The filmmaker stepped in after the original director Danny Boyle, known for "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Trainspotting", left over "creative differences" in 2018.
World has changed
Fukunaga said in a promotional video that his Bond is "like a wounded animal", struggling because "the world has changed, the rules of engagement aren't what they used to be: the rules of espionage (are) darker in this era of asymmetric warfare".
The Bond films are based on a character created by upper-class British writer Ian Fleming in novels published in the 1950s and 1960s.
As the MeToo movement has heightened awareness of misogyny in popular culture, some have argued that time has run out for the franchise.
The new film's director has also criticised Bond's sexual exploits.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Fukunaga said that in one 1960s-era film, "basically Sean Connery's character rapes a woman".
"That wouldn't fly today," he stressed.
Among those working on the screenplay was Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the British creator and star of the TV series "Fleabag" and writer of the first series of "Killing Eve".
In the film, Bond spars with a black female MI6 agent, played by Briton Lashana Lynch, and has to take a back seat to her as she flies a plane."They're doing exactly the right thing, and I think they'll continue to do that in the future," Lynch told Sky News of the creative team.