With a budget of 142 million ($250m) and an all-star Hollywood line-up, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the long awaited return of JK Rowling's world of wizards, magicians and muggles.

But Harry Potter fans will be taken to a world far from Hogwarts. This time it is the streets of 1920s Manhattan which form the backdrop to Rowling's magical vision, with David Yates directing and Eddie Redmayne in the starring role as an eccentric wizard.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them may take place in the build-up to the Great Depression, but its vision of an America caught in the jaws of fear and paranoia has the stony-grim ring of the present.

Hogsmeade, USA this ain't: the city is cold, dark and seething with suspicion, with pamphleteers pressing for a "Second Salem" - as in witch trials - to keep the country's clandestine magic-using element in check.

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Mixing cultures is frowned upon, intermarriage the strictest of no-nos. There's even a straw-haired, smirking son of privilege, Henry Shaw, running for Congress with the campaign slogan "America's Future".

But through the urban chill blows a long breath of warm air, and Newt Scamander (Redmayne) is his name. Newt is a magizoologist who arrives in town via Ellis Island with a Tardis-like leather briefcase full of fabulous creatures under his arm. With the latch switched to "muggle-worthy", he's waved through customs, though a mishap at a bank means his case gets switched with one belonging to Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a "No-Maj" (US for muggle) who mistakenly allows the beasts to escape into the city.

The film is immaculately cast, and the chemistry between its heroes holds your eye with its firework fizz.

Colin Farrell is huskily captivating as Percival Graves, the wizarding world's chief of secret police - although having built him up, the film squanders the character at the last minute. The same goes for Johnny Depp, whose brief appearance as the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald induces rigor mortis levels of cringe in light of the domestic violence allegations made against him.

The catastrophic timing and tone of Depp's pop-up gurn sends you out of Fantastic Beasts feeling more anxious about the franchise's stamina (there's four more to come) than is probably necessary.

"I don't think I'm dreaming and I ain't got the brains to make this up," Jacob boggles when he realises the magical world he's in is for real.

Fortunately for us, Rowling does. Keep it coming.