The audience at last weekend’s midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” came to see a movie about a hero dedicated to overcoming the darkness all around him and providing hope to people lost in the shadows of evil.

Instead, evil reached out its hand in the form of an obviously disturbed individual who was intent on turning a theater into a tomb.

But even in the midst of that horror, there were real heroes who emerged and made the ultimate sacrifice.

One sad truth I’ve learned about the human race is that everyone, even the vilest, most evil of people, feels deep down that what he is doing is right.

Even a madman like the Colorado shooter is driven by that feeling to make choices, to follow a path that ultimately led him to massacre his fellow human beings and try to blow up his neighborhood.

In the end it won’t matter if he’s found to have been insane, drugged, bullied or whatever the excuse is the defense will use. It was him and him alone who chose to wire his apartment with explosives, to dress in body armor, to pick up an armload of guns and kill.

Whatever his twisted thinking, he walked into that theater to try to prove something to himself, that he had power over others, that he was some sort of a man.

But he wasn’t. He was a sniveling child wrapped up in delusional fantasies that he chose over the difficulties of his own life. Whatever set him off, his infantilism found encouragement through his obsession with pop culture. He was a stunted, immature brat lashing out at who knows what.

It must be admitted that in some ways our culture encourages that sort of arrested development, through video games, TV, music, movie and violence, violence, violence. We lack a moral anchor and provide our progeny no mooring, no means of getting their bearings. We’ve set adrift so many of our youths on a sea of nihilism where nothing matters and nothing is real but their own childish wants.

But there were real men in that theater. Our hearts and prayers go out to all the victims of the Aurora shooter, but there are at least three who deserve special notice because their last acts on this Earth were to save someone else.

Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves all had two things in common, according to news sources. Each was at the movie theater with his girlfriend, and each willingly laid down his life protecting his lady.

Blunk’s girlfriend, Jansen Young; McQuinn’s girlfriend, Samantha Yowler; and Teves’ girlfriend, Amanda Lindgren are all alive with only minor injuries because of their boyfriends’ actions.

When the shooting started, Blunk and McQuinn pushed their girlfriends to the floor and covered them with their own bodies. Neither rose again. Teves likewise pushed his girlfriend to the floor, but he was killed before he could get down himself.

There was no hesitation for any of them. There was no stopping to cry or vent or worry about themselves, certainly no wishy-washy PC wondering about offending their girlfriends by pushing them or trying to “negotiate” with a madman.

They acted as they felt in their hearts.

And unlike the fictional character they had come to see a movie about, they were real.

In the midst of horror, they were men. They were heroes.