This past weekend we saw Pacific Rim, and — unsurprisingly — I have some thoughts about the movie.
At this point, I don’t think it counts as spoilery to say that the plot of Pacific Rim involves using giant armored fighting robots to defend against monsters invading Earth through a dimensional rift in the Pacific Ocean. As concepts go, it’s exceptionally well-suited for a treatment featuring a heavy layer of cheese — consider, for example, what Michael Bay did with a similar premise in Transformers.
Michael Bay, though, is the King of Cheese, and Guillermo del Toro, the actual director of Pacific Rim, is something else altogether. The man who directed Pan’s Labyrinth may do genre, but he does not do cheese, and Pacific Rim is more than just a loud and flashy mecha-and-monsters movie. At the same time, it doesn’t for a moment pretend that it’s something else — the film is dedicated to stop-motion animation artist Ray Harryhausen and Godzilla director Ishiro Honda, for heaven’s sake, and contains references and shout-outs to more famous monsters and monster-fights of film and legend than can be conveniently listed here.
What keeps it from being cheesy is that it takes the initial admittedly silly premise–that the obvious and appropriate response to monsters invading from the deep is to construct giant armored robot suits to take them down in single combat–and plays it straight. It never goes over the edge into parody; and it never gives the audience that “look at how clever I’m being” smirk. It does give the audience moments of genuine beauty in the midst of all the action (I don’t think there’s an accidentally ugly image in the whole film.)
In short, the movie respects both its audience and itself, and that’s the best way I know of for all art, and not just film-making, to avoid turning into a pot of Velveeta fondue.