I’m assuming you know what the film is about. If not, go read a synopsis and come back to this listicle.
It also helps if you know some things about the Potterverse and don’t mind spoilers.
1. Eddie Redmayne
Eddie is a great actor in the right role. Let’s pause a moment and consider that he won an Oscar for portraying Stephen Hawking, a real person, in The Theory of Everything, and also that he can belt out a tune as he did as Marius in Les Misérables although Marius is a ponce for running off with Cosette (yes, I’m Team Eponine). Also consider his catastrophic turn as the elder Abrasax sibling in the glorious mess that was Jupiter Ascending (“I. Give. Life!” is unforgettably bad but so utterly quotable, bless).
The Edster is perfect as Newt Scamander, a wizard who we discover was very close to being kicked out of Hogwarts (it’s complicated) but who seems to have an affinity with magical animals. The role calls for a certain level of diffidence when it comes to dealing with other people that never strays into meekness and Eddie traverses this fine line very skilfully.
The filmic Potterverse hasn’t cast so perfectly since sending Kenneth Branagh in as Gilderoy Lockhart.
2. Effects of repression
We get to find out what happens to a witch/wizard when they don’t get their [insert magical school] letter and are left to a world that doesn’t want them to be magic because magic is scary to those who don’t understand it and also sometimes no-majs (muggles) are jealous they don’t have any powers.
Turns out if your powers are repressed it forms a deadly force called an obscurus, which the witch/wizard cannot control and may kill its host. A powerful metaphor for so many other things the world tries to repress.
3. More than what it seems
Those of us who were impressed by Hermione’s handbag with the Undetectable Extension Charm in HP7, love the way Newt’s suitcase becomes different temperature controlled environments for his various beasts. (By the by, the production values for the animals were top notch, from the cheeky shiny-thing-seeking, havoc-causing niffler to Newt’s pocket bowtruckle.)
And just like Newt’s suitcase, the movie is about more than what you think it is. On the surface it’s a sort of fish-out-of-water chase escapade designed so children can understand it but actually it touches more mature issues.
As I mentioned before, the effects of repression is a key one, but there’s also politics, as evidenced by the tension around magical folk having to go underground because no-majs want to lock them up (the most obvious antagonists are the Salemists in this regard) and a throwaway line you might not have caught in relation to maj/no-maj pairings with Newt mentioning the US has “rather backwards laws about relations with non-magic people” as they are not allowed to befriend, let alone marry them.
Newt’s mission, in essence, is to encourage understanding between species—whether wizard/beast or maj/no-maj—to reduce hostility and perhaps even foster bonds.
4. Love is complicated
Too often we get the story of high school sweethearts marrying and having children who then go on to the same school (er herm, all of HP). I’m not a huge fan of romance and romance tokenism but I like the two love stories in the film, the first between legilimen Queenie and no-maj Jacob, an unlikely pairing but very sweet. Through his interactions with various no-majs we get to see that Jacob is rarely understood and Queenie, who can read his mind, understands him perfectly and likes what she reads.
Then there’s the awkwardness of Newt and former auror Tina whose relationship from the outset is built on conflict, Newt being a lawbreaker and Tina resolved to regain her position, before realising they are after the same thing—keeping New York safe—albeit for different reasons.
After noticing a picture of a girl in his suitcase, Queenie talks to Newt about his past love Leta LeStrange. We discover they used to be close at school but there was hurt there. Queenie reads Newt and then says “she was a taker, you need a giver”. When Newt is about to depart New York Tina asks, obliquely, after Leta. Newt mentions that he doesn’t know what Leta does these days, suggesting he hasn’t seen her for some time. Both of them make it very clear they want to see each other again. They do not kiss. Perfectly in character for both.
5. Don’t worry
As Newt and his no-maj offsider Jacob set off on a madcap midnight adventure to recover all the escaped beasts, the magizoologist adopts a rather casual tone about the increasingly high stakes affair. Don’t worry, he urges Jacob: “My philosophy is that if you worry, you suffer twice.” Best.