I’d expected the movie to portray how the namesake book came about in the Wizarding World: a jolly adventure through ‘murica messing around with fantastic animals. But it soon becomes a lengthy detour back to the ‘dark side’ of the wizarding world.
It looks like you’ll have to wait a while before you find out how the book came into being. They have three movies on the way which’ll handle the Grindelwald storyline, all tentatively titled ‘Fantastic Beasts…’
I don’t think sticking to the Potterworld is a bad thing. Dumbledore’s backstory is clearly one of best routes in terms of storytelling opportunity. One could argue that the last of the Potter books were intentionally written in a way as to setup what is now known as J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.
On to the actual movie, it is a feast of CG creatures roaming around a prohibition era New York. The first half of the movie wants you to sit back and enjoy seeing Newt, Kowalski and Tina clumsily deal with the absconding residents of Newt’s suitcase. The Ministry’s counterpart in the USA is called the MACUSA, an acronym that I won’t bother expanding here. And its bureaucracy plays the same role as the Ministry’s did back in the Harry Potter franchise. This is interspersed with MACUSA’s chief Auror Graves trying to task a random adopted kid to find an Obscurial.
Kowalski is clearly the point of reference for new audiences who’re unfamiliar with the Wizarding World. He also provides a nice change to seasoned viewers who’re not used to seeing the wizarding world through the eyes of a no-maj (muggle). His romantic interest Queenie breaks new ground in terms of character portrayals for the franchise because of her very apparent bombshell features.
Some recurring themes like eagles, flags and a change of accent make sure to hammer the premise in the viewer’s head. Also, atleast two of the fantastic creatures seemed to be derived from eagles including the Thunderbird that saves the Statue of Secrecy from falling apart in New York, towards the end of the movie. Couldn’t get any more American than this.
The movie is an amalgamation of American stereotypes, wizarding world fiction and a Rowling(ian?) adventure.