Confession time: I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie, or read a book. Damn you Oscars for throwing this movie a nomination and forcing me to see it. And even though intellectually, I’ve known at various times that this was part of the HP universe, I’ve often confused it with with Doctor Strange, and with so many parallels between the two, it could fit just as easily in Marvel’s.
That dirty secret out of the way, spoiler alert: they’re in Eddie Redmayne’s suitcase. He plays writer and wizard-biologist of sorts, who finds himself in New York City with a suitcase full of trouble. NYC in the 1920s has a more closeted approach to wizardry than we’re used to, and the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) is riding the barrier between magical and non-magical as well as they can. Scamander, however, believes that the beasts in his case are harmless and deserve a chance to be safe and free. This attitude puts him at odds with the MACUSA in general, and Graves (Colin Farrell) in particular. Luckily, a young woman a little lower on the chain, Tina (Katherine Waterson), takes him in, and a non-maj (non-magical person, or muggle) who’s been caught up in the whole thing as well (Jacob, Dan Fogler).
The magical community is on edge because of terrorism committed by the dark wizard Grindelwald. The non-magical community is getting riled up by fundamentalist “Second Salemers”, an anti-magic group to which Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) belongs, and spreads hatred for along with her adopted children (Ezra Miller among them).
As you can see, JK Rowling is drawing an awful lot of nifty parallels between our present day world and theirs. There’s a whole subplot involving the evil things that happen when someone tries to suppress who they truly are.
Eddie Redmayne was the first and only choice for Scamander, which means you get to see an Oscar winner try to seduce a rhinoceros. Whatever you’re imagining, it’s worse. The movie is stand-alone (well, there are 4 sequels planned, but that’s another story) but still works best for those familiar with the Potter world of wizarding. Scamander was already technically a part of it, having written the text book that Harry will read some 70 years later at Hogwarts (of which Scamander is himself an alum). Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a lavish buffet, a visual feast, and it must be a delight for an HP fan to see so much more of the imagined universe come to life. For me, a novice, it was just all right, a serviceable story limited by its many plot lines that failed to cast a spell on me.