I liked "Pan's Labyrinth." I liked the lighting. I liked the costumes. I liked the story and the leisurely way in which it unfolded. Seldom have I seen anything so richly imagined on film. Predictably, it wasn't done by Americans. The New Zealanders, the Japanese, and the Spanish all have us beat.
Yes, there was violence in the film, but I was surprised at how little del Torro seemed to relish it. This movie could have been packed with bloodshed if he'd wanted it to be. What is there is in the service of fleshing out his world and helping him ask the questions about pain, fantasy, and transcendence that he wanted to ask. Maybe he still guessed wrong on the amount needed, but I'm not skilled enough a critic to know.
One thing I can speak on is that fighting Fascists doesn't make you a hero (as Hellboy knows); especially if your side does all the same things. Being on the losing side doesn't make your cause any more just than being on the winning side. We'll just never know what evils you would have perpetrated had you won. Still, I'm not a Spaniard, and del Torro's pain is not my pain, so I won't say any more on that head lest I ere.
All this is dancing around what the movie is actually about: "is hope for a better world just a child's dream?" I'm sure del Torro has volumes to speak on that topic, but he's careful about what he says in the film. At the end, it really is left open to interpretation. That's ok. Sometimes it's ok just to pose a question. The nature of the answer we get directly corresponds to the nature of the question we ask. Finding the right question and the right way to ask it is a worthy effort for a story teller, or any other person.