In X-Men Origins, Wolverine wrestles with his nature when he is tempted to surrender to his animalistic side. Yet the most decent people he meets insist he can choose not to indulge his most violent tendencies, prompting "Logan" to rechristen himself as "Wolverine." With his memory wiped out by the army, Wolverine's dog-tag becomes his sole link to a forgotten past.
An inmate on death row in Terminator: Salvation asks, "Do you think people deserve a second chance?" In a bid for absolution, Marcus Wright donates his body to science. Years later, Marcus assumes he is human until metal gears poke out from his skin. Marcus serves as an interesting hybrid: a machine that chooses to defend humans. His self-sacrifice on behalf of John Conner sparks a rare moment of introspection: "The heart is the difference between us and machines."
Just as Marcus gets a second chance, all of these franchises received second (or third, or fourth) chances. Star Trek deals with multiple selves, traveling across time at warp speed. Wolverine rises from a life-threatening experiment stronger than ever. In Terminator: Salvation, a death-row criminal shifts from murderer to hero. Hollywood suggests that multiple paths and choices will secure our future--a second life turns out to be an essential (and profitable) virtue.
Craig Detweiler, Ph.D., directs Pepperdine University's new Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture. His latest book, Into the Dark, seeks the sacred in the top films of the 21st century. Detweiler blogs at http://www.purplestateofmind.com/.