James Bond fans in Britain flocked to cinemas Thursday as the new 007 film finally hit big screens, 18 months later than planned but to a host of positive reviews.
Cinema chains have been selling tickets for weeks to "No Time To Die", the latest superspy blockbuster which premiered in London Tuesday night and has since earned widespread critical acclaim.
The film opened to commercial audiences in the UK and dozens of cities around the world on Thursday.
While it will play to most other audiences in countries like Russia, France and the United States over the coming week, Covid delays have continued to impact its release in Australia.
The film is set to give chains around the UK their biggest opening since 2019, with Vue cinemas selling more than 270,000 tickets and Odeon over 175,000 in advance.
The film, originally set for release early last year but repeatedly postponed due to the pandemic, is Daniel Craig's fifth and final outing in the role of the sauve secret agent.
"It's better than good. It's magnificent," The Times newspaper's film critic Kevin Maher gushed, giving it a maximum five stars.
"Craig is a towering charismatic presence from opening frame to closing shot, and he bows out in terrific, soulful, style."
Peter Bradshaw, of The Guardian, also lavished five stars on the film, arguing its duration of nearly three hours -- unusually long for the franchise -- is justified.
"Craig's final film as the diva of British intelligence is an epic barnstormer," he wrote.
"You can see the pleasure everyone takes in this gigantic piece of ridiculously watchable entertainment which feels like half its actual running time."
- Thumbs up from fans -
However, the praise from critics was not universal and others disagreed about its length of two hours and 43 minutes.
John Nugent, writing in Empire magazine, criticised the middle of the movie for getting "bogged down by plotting" and that it "doesn't justify that heaving runtime".
Impatient movie-goers, who have been waiting since 2015's "Spectre" for the 25th instalment in the 007 franchise, were able to watch the new film from as early as 8:00 am (0700 GMT) Thursday.
Leaving one of the early morning screenings in central London's Leicester Square, documentary filmmaker Matt Bowyer told AFP he had come to see the film with "hardcore Bond fans".
He said the blockbuster had been "definitely worth the wait".
Janet Barratt, 67, said before the pandemic she used to visit the cinema three times a week.
"I have missed cinema through Covid," the retiree said. "So this is very special today."
Thomas Murdy, who works in the film industry, said the movie was "terrific", adding the "action sequences were great".
"I think it was a lot sharper than some of the other recent films," the 29-year-old said. "I couldn't have asked for more."
- 'Enduring popularity' -
Cineworld, which closed the doors to its 127 UK cinemas when the film was last year delayed again until 2021, said it had sold out a number of upcoming screenings.
Meanwhile Odeon noted around 40 percent of tickets were going to patrons who are returning to the cinema for the first time since they re-opened following pandemic closures.
More than a third of its tickets sold to the film have been to customers aged over 46, it added.
"The film has seen the strongest level of demand from an older audience for over 18 months, showing the enduring popularity of everyone's favourite spy," an Odeon statement said.
"No Time To Die" 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.
It is hoped the movie will kickstart new releases alongside a sustained return of audiences.
At Tuesday's star-studded premiere at London's historic Royal Albert Hall, Craig said he was "relieved" the film had finally arrived on the big-screen.
"We make Bond movies for the cinema," he told Sky News from the red carpet.