THe HOST "Aieeee! It’s Admiral Ackbar!"

Godzilla sold out. Sure, he started off strong: In 1954, the original Japanese Gojira featured a giant monster who'd been created thanks to nuclear weapons testing. Gojira, now hailed as a classic, was part "critical allegory of 1950s world affairs," and part "movie about a dude dressed in a rubber suit smashing cardboard buildings." (Both things are pretty great.) But then it got iffy: A bazillion Godzilla sequels watered down the original's message, and by the time 1998 rolled around, the dudes behind Independence Day had relegated the once-noble monster to facing off with Ferris Bueller.

But where Godzilla failed, The Host succeeds: A Korean film released last year, The Host takes a few cues from the classic Godzilla, but adds a few twists of its own—in other words, it's got all the best parts of an old-school monster movie, plus enough intellectual subtext to keep the art-house crowd happy. More importantly, it's simply one of the most enjoyable films to come along in years.

Where to start, though? (imdb.com is as confused about this as I am, listing The Host's genre—pretty accurately, actually—as "Action/Comedy/Drama/Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller.") Years after a dickish American doctor orders that formaldehyde be dumped into an urban Korean river, a monster—part T. Rex, part fish, part Admiral Ackbar—crawls out of said river on a sunny afternoon; leaping into a park, it devours picnickers and sunbathers before diving back into the depths. The members of a family that own a nearby snack shop are caught up in all of this—they're also caught up in governmental fear mongering, a SARS-like disease scare, and the arrogant military encroachment of (surprise!) the United States. Always darkly comedic, The Host is a lot of other things, too: genuinely creepy, sharply funny, quirkily clever, and unexpectedly emotional. But fun, yes, and charming, and just flat-out cool—in fact, The Host might be the first must-see monster movie since 1954.