I like the Harry Potter movies, but this was utter garbage on so many levels. It made zero effort to create a distinct American wizarding identity. The only "American" thing about it was bureaucracy, I guess? Oh, and paranoid xenophobia. Get it? Also why do American wizards use bald eagles and stars and stripes if they are also mandated by law to be separate from non-wizards? They just happen to be proud of the founding principles of the united states that they aren't a part of?
And for a movie called "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" there was very little fantastic beasting. The main threat in the movie wasn't a fantastic beast at all, and the beasts we did see all did basically the same thing - running around breaking stuff. They couldn't think of more creative stuff? Like maybe an animal that went around spreading a pheromone that made everyone fall in love with each other and such.
And how can Colin Farrell sentence them to a summary execution on the spot with no trial or appeal or witnesses? And don't tell me that's related to the spoiler at the end because everyone else who was carrying out the execution was acting like he had the complete authority to do this under the American laws, which is a metric fuckton of bullshit. A country that makes you get a permit for a wand isn't also sentencing people to death due to treason in summary trials by what is basically a cop.
The only good thing about it was the non-wizard guy, but they even fucked up his storyline at the end. And a lot of the effects were blah, but I did like the goblin gangster guy.
You don't need to know anything about Harry Potter, though I did learn some things about how it connects that I'll throw into during the viewing.
As for FaB 1? Here's what I remember (though if you want the full recap go to Wikipedia, which I didn't)
Spoilered for Pig (i.e. I spoiled it if he wants to get through the movie without knowing what happens):
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a magic animal dude who travels the world in search for fantastic beasts and where to find them. He's like if 90s Hugh Grant played Doctor Who without the charisma of either.
He goes to 1920s New York where he meets Jacob (a muggle baker who ends up becoming the most likeable character in the movie), Tina Goldstein (bland love interest who is his guide I think?), and Queeny Goldstein (her daffy sister who falls for Jacob).
Then there's a subplot involving Colin Farrell as some sort of magic bureaucrat who's up to no good (I forgot his scheme) and Ezra Miller as an effete orphan with a bad haircut whose magical leanings have been sublimated by his anti-magic religious zealous mother (though I could be wrong but I don't think Captain J is ever mentioned).
Colin recognizes that Ezra has the Force and is like "dude, we should totally hang out."
At some point, for some reason, the Newt/Colin storylines intersect. Newt and Tina are sentenced to death for some reason, but they escape. Then it turns out that Colin is really Johnny Depp as Grindlewald, a really bad wizard dude.
Ezra explodes at some point.
Then they mind wipe all of New York City using a bird's piss.