Daniel Craig thrilled James Bond fans in London on Tuesday when he stepped onto the red carpet with co-stars Judi Dench and Javier Bardem for the world premiere of the 23rd Bond film Skyfall.
Craig, making his third outing as Bond, said it had been a "real honour" to play the role
in the franchise's 50th anniversary year, as he swept past a giant 007 logo and the secret agent's favourite Aston Martin.
The rugged Craig stars with Dench, again playing his controller M, and Spaniard Bardem as the spy's latest nemesis Raoul Silva.
Heir to the British throne Prince Charles attended the screening, which fittingly took place amid the regal splendour of the Royal Albert Hall.
Critics have declared the 23rd Bond film one of the finest in the British secret agent's half century on the silver screen.
The prince hailed Bond as "the most famous secret service agent of all time" in a letter included in the screening's programmes.
The release of Skyfall has special resonance because it is half a century this month since Bond strode stylishly into a film for the first time in "Dr No".
"It is just a real honour to be part of it and to have a chance to make a movie in this 50th year," Craig told Sky News on the red carpet.
"There is nothing quite like it, but this feels even more special for me than the ones that have gone before," Craig said of the premiere.
In "Skyfall", Britain's foreign intelligence agency MI6 comes under attack, leaving Bond to hunt down the threat.
Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes hands M a more prominent role than in recent Bond adventures, giving Dench a chance to develop her testy personal relationship with Craig's inscrutable 007.
"There was lots more to explore -- a continuation of what has been happening to us over several years," Dench said at the premiere. "I boss him about all the time."
She said the Bond films remained popular 50 years on because "he (is) just very British" and "a hero that we love".
Even for a veteran of dozens of films, acting in a Bond movie was a unique experience, Dench told BBC TV.
"It is quite different from any other film. And they make you very, very welcome and they make you feel part of the franchise and part of the family."
Mendes meanwhile described taking charge of his first Bond film as a nerve-wracking experience.
"You're looking after something that is public property and you have to treat it properly," he said before the screening.
"You can't take a Bond movie on unless you want to deal with pressure and people's expectation it's part of the pleasure. You have to embrace that," he told AFP.
Other luminaries include Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw, playing a younger version of Bond's gadgets man Q than his predecessors Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese.
Skyfall opens with a spectacular scene in an Istanbul market but returns to home ground with a terror attack in London.
In his two previous outings in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, 44-year-old Craig has played Bond as a brooding presence, which critics say is far closer to the agent portrayed in the novels by his creator Ian Fleming.
Craig said he hoped "Skyfall" would show a lighter side too.
"It's a good, dense storyline but it's adult in many ways. It's also got a lot of fun in it, and people might be surprised by the fact that there's a lightness of touch in the movie that hasn't been in the last two," he told Time Out magazine this month.
Time Out's critic found it a "highly distinctive Bond movie", praise echoed by most reviewers.
The Daily Mail on Tuesday touted it as a candidate for the "best ever" Bond film with Bardem "one of the scariest" ever villains, while the Daily Telegraph suggested Dench could be in line to pick up an Oscar for her performance.
Bardem told AFP of his love for Bond and lavished praise on Mendes.
"My generation and lots of others grew up with James Bond, and it was a luxury and an honor to be invited to be in the film celebrating its 50th anniversary," he said.
"What he (Mendes) has done is to add a classic touch from the biggest James Bond films, while bringing more complexity to the characters, their relationships and the dialogue," added the Oscar-winning actor.
The Bond franchise has gone on to become one of the most successful in history, with the 22 films released so far taking more than five billion dollars (3.85 billion euros).
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(With additional inputs)
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