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“Black Panther” is fierce.

And now maybe Chadwick Boseman, one of the finest actors around, will become the household word he deserves to be in this beautifully written, thoughtful film that — dare I say it? — will join the short list of 2018 as one of the year’s finest.

Boseman stars as Prince T’Challa, who is the current Black Panther. The movie starts where “Captain America: Civil War” left off.

T’Challa returns to his homeland of Wakanda, Africa, where he will take over after his father’s death.

The reigning king must protect Wakanda from outsiders. To visitors, Wakanda appears to be a developing country. But it’s really a highly advanced, technologically wondrous place that remains hidden to all but its residents. That’s because it’s the source of vibranium, a rare material that enables Wakanda to create incredible transportation and science advances.

Some think that Wakanda should share its secrets with the rest of the world for the betterment of humanity. T’Challa doesn’t know whether to keep its marvels hidden or shared.

A vicious arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) knows that Wakanda is the source of vibranium — in fact, he has managed to get his mitts on some of the material with the help of his accomplice Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”) who has ties to Wakanda.

Boseman, not surprisingly, owns this role, as he has in every movie in which he stars. And often playing opposite him is the superb Lupita Nyong’o as a spy.

The most interesting secondary character is Okoye, a warrior who guards whomever sits on Wakanda’s throne. She is played by Danai Gurira, recognizable from television’s “The Walking Dead.” Gurira’s performance is as remarkable as her character is fascinating — I hope her role as Okoye expands even more in sequels.

Just as intriguing is Letitia Wright, who plays T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri, who loves to tease her brother when she isn’t inventing some gadget in a role that’s reminiscent of Q from the James Bond films.

The entire land of Wakanda is a character in itself, with its fascinating traditions, wondrous technology and gorgeous environments. That’s part of what makes this such an excellent science-fiction piece, although of course it’s also a super-hero film as well an action flick. All I could think of when I saw each aspect of Wakanda was “I want to learn more about this place.”

The smart script has depth that takes its action and relationships to a cerebral level with themes about history, preserving tradition and race issues.

“Black Panther” is outstanding — a multi-genre masterpiece.

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★ ★ ★ ★


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