Sometimes, I’m not sure if The Dark Knight was worth it. Sure, it’s one of the best superhero films ever — and one of the best films, full stop, of the last 20 years — but it has also led to the misguided mimicry of countless on-screen superhero stories to follow. We see this in so many ways, but perhaps my least favorite example of superhero stories trying to copy The Dark Knight (and missing the point) is in the Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn villain trope, explained in the video below.
To sum it up (imagine it’s being delivered in cockney gravitas by British thespian Michael Caine): “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just wanna watch the world burn.”
While The Dark Knight is a nuanced thematic exploration of chaos and urbanity, most superhero stories are, well, not. So, from now one, here’s a one-step process for superhero story creators trying to decide if they should feature a Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn villain-type in their superhero story. Step #1: Is Sir Michael Caine, CBE in your project and willing to give a speech explaining this trope? If yes, proceed. If no, create a villain with actual character motivation. Here are a few egregious examples of recent superhero stories that have not followed this simple rule, with a special highlight on the Arrow-verse.