We did it with "Wall-E", so we can do it with the other giant blockbuster of the summer---"The Dark Knight". I waited until after seeing it this weekend to read Jesse's review of it, because as my geek quotient rises, my tolerance for getting spoiled lowers. This review will also have spoilers, so beware if you're like me, and have put off seeing it.
I read Jesse's review and the links that described "The Dark Knight" as peddling in a libertarian fascist fantasy with interest. I hadn't thought of the ending that way at all. I'm 100% in agreement that the last scene really took the shine off the movie, even though I was actually pretty impressed with the choice (if it stays that way) of letting the Harvey Dent storyline die right there. The movie was almost pitch perfect right up until the clunky exposition at the end. My take on the final scene is this---it's clear the movie was going to end on a really dark note, with the people of Gotham turned against Batman. The writers should have left that as a matter of cruel fate---a result of the Harvey Dent deception and the whole incident where he had to beat up cops to save innocent hostages. The Harvey Dent deception could have actually been written like one of the various political fumbles on "The Wire", as an immoral decision made by flawed people under a great deal of pressure. That would have preserved the ability to end the movie where it needed to end, with Batman's reputation in the toilet, and without leaving the weird feeling that you just saw a movie endorse fascism.
That said, I think the perception of the endorsement of fascism owes more to the way that the final scene was played---with voiceovers and noble characters speaking authoritatively---than anything else. Taken as part of the larger plot and the hopes for the sequel, I think the actual conclusion of the end of the movie has to be read simply as an example of Batman and Gordon fucking up. Think about it. In later movies, Batman is going to be redeemed presumably, and so his despondent moment here is temporary, and so perhaps the rationalization for it will be as well. But think about the rest of the movie leading up to it. Batman and Gordon are shown having poor judgment throughout. They believe in Harvey Dent, and they're wrong. They choose Dent over Rachel, which is a mistake. They get played by the Joker over and over, and like Alfred says, maybe this is the guy that's beyond Batman's capabilities to understand. Is it possible to read the last scene as another example of the Joker getting one over on Batman? He corrupted Harvey Dent, and he also managed to corrupt Batman by getting him to embrace fascist ideas, and after he correctly predicted that people, entrusted with self-rule, will do right by themselves just a few scenes before in the climatic scene.
Hero stories, good ones at least, often have the dark night of the soul part, where the hero loses his path and begins to doubt himself or what he believes in. Considering that the very name of the movie is a pun on the literary trope of the "dark night of the soul", then I have to believe that ending on that sour note, with Batman driving away off the path that fate has arranged for him is supposed to be intentional. Also, there's exactly zero doubt that there's going to be a sequel where Batman rallies and gets back on the path---we can't understand this ending as the end of the story, but the end of a chapter in the story. From that perspective, then, the annoying heavy-handed last scene might be a stroke of genius, because it really sucks the audience into believing that the characters' conclusions about the moral duty to deceive is what the film is trying to say, drawing them in as co-conspirators in the corruption. The Joker's last prank pulls in everyone, even the audience.
Or maybe I'm just grasping because I enjoyed that movie so much, and especially thought that the Joker, as a Loki-like god of chaos, was amazing, absolutely amazing.