'We've been expecting you, Mr Bond...': 007 back after virus delay

The latest James Bond movie gets its world premiere next week, nearly six years after the last film in the storied franchise and an 18-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

British royalty and pandemic heroes have been invited to London's Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday to watch "No Time To Die", the 25th instalment of the popular spy saga.

The film is expected to be Daniel Craig's last appearance as 007. Three previously scheduled premieres -- in March and November 2020, and this April -- were all cancelled.

Craig and co-stars including Rami Malek and Lea Seydoux will join princes Charles and William on the red carpet at the glitzy screening, before the film hits UK cinemas two days later and releases globally October 8.

Healthcare workers and armed forces members will also be present, and have been invited to 10 other premieres across Britain, in recognition of their work combating Covid-19.

"We're incredibly excited to be launching the film in a theatrical release," franchise producer Barbara Broccoli said on the "No Time To Die: The Official James Bond Podcast" released this month.

"The film is a celebration of Bond -- the 25th film and almost 60 years and, most importantly, Daniel Craig's final outing. So we feel it's a big event."

A handout photograph taken on September 22, 2021 and released by the Royal Navy, UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) on September 23, 2021, shows Admiral Sir Tony Radakin KCB ADC (L) and Commander Daniel Craig, who is best known for playing the role of James Bond in the long running 007 film series, on his receiving the honorary Royal Navy rank of Commander from the Head of the Royal Navy, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Tony Radakin KCB ADC at the Corinthia Hotel in London. - James Bond actor Daniel Craig has been made an honorary commander in the Royal Navy, matching the rank of the fictional superspy he plays on screen, the service announced on Thursday. (Photo by Lee BLEASE / MOD / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT " AFP PHOTO / LEE BLEASE / UK MOD / CROWN COPYRIGHT 2021 " - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - NO ARCHIVE - TO BE USED WITHIN 2 DAYS FROM SEPTEMBER 23, 2021 (48 HOURS), EXCEPT FOR MAGAZINES WHICH CAN PRINT THE PICTURE WHEN FIRST REPORTING ON THE EVENT /

- 'Cinema experience' -

Cinema operators, studios such as MGM -- which owns the 007 movies -- and distributor Universal Pictures are among those hoping the blockbuster release will help lure movie-goers back to auditoriums worldwide.

Cinemas were closed for months during the pandemic in key markets such as Britain and the United States, forcing delays to releases and hitting finances hard.

MGM, bought by online shopping giant Amazon for nearly $9 billion (£7 billion, 8 billion euros) earlier this year, spent a rumoured $250 million on the action-packed film.

The last Bond movie "Spectre" -- released in late 2015 -- set box office records for a 2D film in China, and grossed more than $880 million worldwide, according to movie industry magazines.

"It's very important that people see this film in the cinemas -- it was designed and filmed and produced to be in the cinemas, to be a cinema experience," said fellow Bond producer Michael G. Wilson.

"We really held out against other alternatives like streaming."

Broccoli said the movie, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga ("Beasts of No Nation", "True Detective") and filmed in Norway, Italy and Jamaica, was "a cinematic masterpiece".

- 'Spice it up' -

"No Time To Die" sees Bond drawn out of retirement in Jamaica by his old friend and CIA agent Felix Leiter.

He is asked to embark on a treacherous mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist, according to Universal.

Malek, who won a best actor Oscar for his depiction of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody", plays his adversary Safin.

Lashana Lynch plays a new MI6 spy working alongside an ageing Bond, while Seydoux returns as Madeleine Swann, his love interest in "Spectre".

British actress and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge ("Fleabag") was involved in the script to help improve the portrayal of women, after repeated claims of misogyny and sexism.

Craig said her addition to the writing team was to "spice it up" but as she was a Bond fan "she wasn't about to take him in a different direction".

Teenage pop star Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O'Connell wrote the movie's theme song, which topped the British charts when it was released early last year.

- 'Ungrateful' -

Craig, 53, has played the suave secret agent in four previous Bond films, starting with "Casino Royale" in 2006, and even starring alongside Queen Elizabeth II, who made a cameo for the opening of the London 2012 Olympics.

On the Bond podcast, he said he landed the part by promising to try to "reinvent" rather than recreate the character.

"What Daniel's brought to the character is sort of unearthing the emotions," Broccoli said of Craig's five-film tenure.

However, he made headlines in 2015 by saying he would "rather slash my wrists" than play 007 again.

In an interview published this week, Craig insisted he was "joking" when he made the comment but acknowledged that it came across as "ungrateful."

"To be completely honest, I was thinking: I don't know if I can do another one of these," he told Britain's Radio Times, noting that he had broken his leg filming "Spectre".