If anyone were to tell you that you'd only enjoy Fantastic Beasts... if you're a Potterhead, all you have to say in reply is Stupefy. And then go watch the movie. J K Rowling's foray into big-budget screenwriting is so immensely enjoyable as a standalone movie that you'll end up having a blast, whether or not you understand what muggles are.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne with hair tousled a slightly different way), is a wizard who arrives in New York. He's like the Caesar Milan in the world of magical creatures, except he isn't on YouTube and he has a British accent. He also has a suitcase that contains what appears to mini-ark, full of exciting magical creatures, whom he has carefully rescued and studied.
The year is 1926. This is post-WWI America. There are small hate groups trying to warn people about the dangers of letting witches live amongst them, but nobody really cares. Until strange forces begin tearing The Big Apple apart. The American take on the wizarding world is delightfully different — there's no Ministry of Magic, there's only MACUSA (Magical Congress of the USA), muggles (us normal non-magical types) are called No-majs. And no cross-associating is allowed. Strictly. As Scamander runs into rotund wannabe baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), their cases get mixed up and some of Scamander's beasts are let loose on NYC. Add some black magic, strange deaths, wizards hurtling around and a goodish dash of humour and you've got a combination that's pure magic. Sorry, couldn't resist that one.
For once, this isn't a movie that hinges entirely on Eddie Redmayne's stellar acting prowess, unlike his recent body of work (The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl). It's a rock-solid story backed by some expensive visual effects and some crafty storytelling (David Yates doesn't have a Harry Potter hangover despite having done the last four films in the franchise) and J K Rowling's screenplay is a treat to behold. I don't know if she had a hand to play, but the humour written into the film seem distinctly Rowling-y. Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp have moderate and extremely small cameos to play in the film. You may ask why. I'd rather ask, why not.
Which brings me to another refreshing thing about Fantastic Beasts... — except for the eerily familiar strains of the Harry Potter soundtrack at the start, familiar names of spells (Accio, Obliviate, Alohomora...you name 'em) and one mention of Albus Dumbledore, there's absolutely no throwback to the Harry Potter movies. Take that Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Film: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell
Verdict: Watch it. It's one of those rare treats that you'd like, whether or not you get Harry Potter