'Royale' treatment for Craig, Bond pic

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LONDON -- Fans lined up in the London rain Tuesday to catch a glimpse of the new blond Bond, as sandy-haired Daniel Craig made his screen debut as suave secret agent 007.

"Casino Royale," the 21st James Bond film and the grittiest to date, was receiving its world premiere before an audience including Queen Elizabeth II. The movie opens in Britain and North America on Friday.

Stars including Elton John and Beyonce Knowles were expected in the audience in London's Leicester Square for Craig's date with double-O destiny.

Craig, 38, is already being praised in some quarters as the best Bond since Sean Connery, who originated the role in 1962's "Dr. No." His debut has restored the buzz around a franchise that many felt was past its prime.

"With 'Casino Royale,' we've not only got a new Bond, we've also got a new approach to the genre," said James Chapman, author of "License to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films." "It's revisionist. It's going back to the roots of Bond's character."

The buzz is quite a turnaround. Last year's announcement that Craig would be the sixth actor to play Bond triggered gripes from many fans of the franchise, which has earned an estimated $4 billion worldwide. They said Craig -- whose recent screen credits include "Munich" and "The Jacket" -- was too blond, too craggy, too obscure to play the world's greatest spy.

An anti-Craig Web site -- http://www.danielcraigisnotbond.com -- urged a boycott of the movie. Craig supporters hit back with http://danielcraigisbond.com.

An adaptation of Ian Fleming's first-ever Bond novel, "Casino Royale," was previously filmed as a 1967 spoof starring Peter Sellers. It is one of the few Bond adventures not to feature the MI6 gadget-maker Q or the sharp-witted secretary Miss Moneypenny, although Judi Dench is a welcome return as spy master M.

The Sony Pictures film retains many of the essential Bond elements, including sharp suits, gravity-defying chase sequences and spectacular locations that range from the Bahamas to Montenegro.

But the screenplay, partly written by "Crash" writer-director Paul Haggis, provides a grittier-than-usual take on Bond, showing how he earns his license to kill. When asked if he prefers his martini shaken or stirred, he replies, "Do I look like I give a damn?"

Judging by early reviews, many of the doubters have been won over.

"His sex appeal is off the scale," said critic Wendy Ide in The Times of London.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw praised Craig's "effortless presence and lethal danger."

"Daniel Craig is a fantastic Bond," he wrote.

Craig has already signed up for the 22nd Bond film, due for release in November 2008.
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