British actor Daniel Craig, the controversial choice to play the new James Bond in the upcoming film Casino Royale, has won early reviews Miss Moneypenny would be proud of.
The producers of one of the world's most successful movie franchises were seen as taking a considerable risk with Craig, who angry fans said was too blond, too ugly and insufficiently suave to serve on Her Majesty's Secret Service.
But if the majority of film critics are anything to go by, the risk has paid off handsomely.
The 38-year-old, with a proven acting pedigree, has been credited with revitalising a series some felt had become bloated and over-reliant on clever gadgets.
"It's a terrific debut," wrote the Daily Telegraph's Sinclair McKay, summing up a weekend of praise from British newspapers eager to get their reviews out early.
"From the very start, he steps with full assuredness into Sean Connery's old handmade shoes."
The Times' Wendy Ide appears to take a swipe at some of Craig's five predecessors in the role by concluding her review: "His main asset quickly becomes evident. He can act".
Ide also points out that Bond had met his match in other, younger screen spies Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer, who "share Bond's initials but little else".
Casino Royale takes viewers back to the beginning of Bond's life as a spy, allowing director Martin Campbell to introduce character changes most have welcomed.
"This Bond is far more vulnerable than his predecessors," said David Edwards in British tabloid the Daily Mirror.
"Not only does he have his heart broken, he also winds up almost dead after a beating."
Several reviewers noted one joke that deliberately breaks a Bond tradition. When asked if he wants his vodka martini shaken or stirred, Craig replies: "Do I look like I give a damn?"
Casino Royale is described as darker and more raw than previous films in the series and less reliant on the gadgets that have helped Bond out of countless scrapes.
Only The Observer Weekly's Tim Adams was generally negative, calling the time frame of the film "perplexing" and questioning the film-makers' decision to make Bond more real.
"The problem with making Bond more real is that everything around him then seems even more fake than usual," he said.
The response to Casino Royale will come as a relief to producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, who admit they took a risk in casting Craig as Bond.
He replaced the popular Pierce Brosnan, whose last Bond film Die Another Day raked in an estimated US$432 million ($645 million) at the box office. The franchise has generated billions of dollars over its 44-year lifespan.
* Casino Royale opens in New Zealand cinemas on December 7By Mike Collett-White