I’ll be first to poke fun at how super heroes have taken over Hollywood, but also first to admit The Dark Knight is not only my favorite super hero movie, it’s just one of my favorite movies in any category.
I also recently re-watched The Matrix and Fight Club and would place The Dark Knight in the same bucket with these – viz. amazing action movies that somehow also present some pretty deeply interesting intellectual ideas / dilemmas.
The Joker makes every other character – even the extras – squirm and confront dark choices – and this is exactly the exhausting position I feel whenever I have watched it. The film is relentless, kind of makes you give up on everything you might be optimistic for, pointing out the contradictions in the different ways the “good guys” strive to act virtuously.
The film is a sort of critique of the very idea of a framework or system for rationalizing virtue not unlike No Country for Old Men.
In some ways, The Dark Knight is even more bleak, because it not only sports one of the only villains I think can match up to Anton Chigurh, but it also shows again and again how easily The Joker can corrupt good people by trapping them in the systems of logic they use to rationalize virtue.
But it doesn’t end on quite as bleak a note as No Country – it leaves open the possibility for hope, if only through a faith that many (most?) people are good and will do the right thing.
Not necessarily something you want to bet the entirety of human civilization on, but I think the point of the movie is that is the only thing you can ultimately bet on being incorruptible.