Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a spin-off from a movie series called Harry Potter. I assume I don't need to tell you much about the story of those films. Fantastic Beasts is a little more unusual, in that it's not directly based on a book. The book with the same name is actually a published version of the textbook that Scamander writes mostly before the events of this movie. It was nice for me to see a Harry Potter movie where I wasn't bothered by inaccuracies at every turn. I also don't believe you'd need to have much experience with the Harry Potter series to enjoy this movie.
There is a fantastic movie here, buried under layers of exposition about the magical community in America. As someone who likes to know everything I possibly can about fantasy worlds, I didn't mind that so much. There's still plenty of action and comedy though, for those who prefer that. It also touches on more serious elements of the universe.
The film combines the visual style of the Harry Potter movies, the wonder of New York City, some beautiful special effects and the aesthetics of the 1920's to make a movie that is a real visual treat. Some scenes are just awesome, like the inside of Scamander's bag, which reminded me of the first time we stepped foot in Diagon Alley. Others have a darker feel more reminiscent of the later movies. But the film always managed to remain it's own thing, connected to yet distinct from the wider Harry Potter canon.
The movie uses it's characters to great effect. Newt being a newcomer to America and a Muggle (sorry, No-Maj) protagonist helps us to learn along with the protagonist in the same way as Harry Potter. Eddie Redmayne pulls of a delightful role as the protagonist, and the American cast play well together, but the stand-out role here has to go to Ezra Miller.
The movie also doesn't bog itself down with references to the first Harry Potter series, either. They are present, but infrequent. This helps the movie stand as its own thing and not just a part of the Harry Potter franchise. I can point to a few sequels and spin-offs within the last few years that did throwback every little thing to the original movies every time it possibly could. While it works in some cases, but not in others, it was for this one's benefit that it didn't tie it into Harry's journey too much.
The twist (Graves is Grindelwald, which is sort of obvious when he gives a necklace with the sign of the Deathly Hallows necklace to a young boy) might be easy to see coming for anyone with a small background knowledge in Harry Potter, but getting to piece the threads together early is part of the fun. I will say that it suffers from "prequel syndrome" where we know how events of this movie play out because of facts we can extrapolate from the original. But the suspense then comes from finding out how they will prevent the events from happening!
All in all, I give this movie 4/5, and a final word of "watch it in theatres" because I'm doubtful if the visual effects will look quite as good on a smaller screen.