3:37 a.m. July 25, 2012

The Dark Knight Sympathizes

Yesterday afternoon, Batman swooped into Aurora, Colorado.

Christian Bale, star of “The Dark Knight Rises,” flew to Colorado on Tuesday, July 24, where he visited a hospital in which victims of Friday’s theater shooting are recuperating. Bale met with the injured for over two hours, a gesture that feels simultaneously courageous and calculated. (Then again, we are talking about Christian Bale.) While in Aurora the actor had his picture taken with the wounded, visited a memorial for the dead, and offered his condolences.

Hopefully not in his Batman voice.

According to “Dark Knight” studio Warner Bros., Bale undertook this mission unilaterally and unofficially — a superhero turned PR hero. After all, “Dark Knight” wasn’t just the backdrop to the massacre. Accused killer James Holmes dyed his hair red for the job and called himself the Joker when arrested, which is not the kind of branding that’s generally considered beneficial. But Bale’s vigilante photo-op isn’t the only way those involved in the movie are trying to control the damage.

“Gangster Squad,” an upcoming Warner Bros. movie starring Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling, has seen its trailer changed in response to the shootings. Specifically, a scene in which men fire machine guns into a crowded movie theater has been removed, thus killing the studio’s really funny inside joke about how much test audiences suck.

Still, the film industry isn’t expecting that much blowback. Former Columbia Pictures marketing chief Peter Sealey had this to say: “The public’s attention span is not that long for such tragedies, and they won't make the connection the further it fades into their memories.” See, nothing to worry about. People won’t be terrified much longer because — hey, what’s that? The human brain can only hold about two hours’ worth of stuff and junk at a time. Trust the movie marketer on this.

There have been other measures of flak prevention. The Paris premiere of “Dark Knight” was canceled. Press junkets for the cast have been quashed. In the oddest move, though, Warner Bros. instituted a box-office-receipt blackout over the weekend, ostensibly so that movie executives don’t wind up looking like tragedy profiteers. They don’t have anything to worry about. According to leaked numbers, “Dark Knight” took in a mere $160.8 million in its opening weekend at the domestic box office. It was originally expected to gross $175 million — but that was before Holmes murdered 12 of its patrons.

James Holmes cost Warner Bros. roughly $1.18 million per corpse.

Neither Warner Bros. nor Bale has a need to feel guilty. That hasn’t stopped them. Their responses to the massacre have seemed like a strange mix of human empathy and ass-covering, both classy and crass. But while the gun-control debate picks up momentum this week, hardly anyone blames the shooting on “Dark Knight” itself.

Except, that is, for Torrence Brown, Jr. The Aurora man — who was in the theater during the shooting but was not physically harmed — didn’t line up to meet Bale yesterday. Instead, Brown was busy filing a lawsuit saying he suffered emotional trauma because Warner Bros. makes violent movies that inspire violent people to do violent things. With all due respect to Brown, whose friend A. J. Boik died in that bloodbath, the case is bullshit. Not that it won’t accomplish the same thing that Brown accuses “Dark Knight” of: inspiring copycats. TMZ headlined the story by calling it “James Holmes Massacre: First Lawsuit.” Because, naturally, there will be more.

One victim, though, isn’t worrying about such things. Caleb Medley, an aspiring standup comic from the small town of Florence, Colorado, was watching “Dark Knight” with his wife Katie in the Century 16 theater early Friday morning, when James Holmes burst in and pulled out a gun. The Joker proceeded to shoot the comedian in the face.

Medley lived — although his right eye has been destroyed, he’s suffered brain damage, and he remains in a coma. Monday, in the same hospital where her husband clings to life, Katie gave birth to their first child, Hugo. Caleb and Katie settled on the name weeks ago. It’s an homage to a character from one of their favorite TV shows, “Lost.”

Medley is also a huge Batman fan. He couldn’t wait until later in the weekend to see “Dark Knight.” He had to be there on opening night. When Medley wakes up, maybe Bale can find the time to swoop back through.