“Generation Iron” follows seven top competitors as they prep for bodybuilding’s crowning glory, the annual Mr. Olympia contest. Vlad Yudin’s polished docu will satisfy aficionados with its glimpse at these well-known behemoths’ training regimes, plus appearances by such crossover celebrities as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno and Michael Jai White. Those with just a casual interest will find it colorful if a bit undercooked in the human-interest department, with limited insight into what makes its subjects tick, and the occasional rivalries between them. Pic has successfully expanded since its limited theatrical opening on Sept. 20, and should have a long career in home formats.
Between them, Phil Heath, Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman have won the Mr. Olympia title every year since 1998 save one (Dexter Jackson nabbed it in 2010). At the 2012 competition in Las Vegas, onetime pro basketball hopeful Heath’s closest rival is single-braid-haired Kai Greene, who’s risen from a very rough background to become a flamboyant fan favorite. Some trash talking has led the two to cease speaking to one another by the time of the event, with their mutual hostility apparent onstage. There are also moments here when we perceive how the overwhelming drive to be “best of the best” — bodybuilding is about as far from a team sport as you can get — takes its toll in terms of ego bloat, burning bridges, shortchanging family time, and so forth. But “Iron” doesn’t bother to milk much drama from the problems such a personal focus can bring, or even from the protags’ other difficulties, as when Dominican Republic-born Victor Martinez has to battle possible deportation from the U.S.
Instead, the film, like its subjects, focuses its attention almost entirely on training. Beyond a brief historical recap (the pic is dedicated to late brothers Joe and Ben Weider, who founded the contest as well as the Intl. Federation of Bodybuilders), there’s not much insight into the larger BB world, with view narrowed to the uppermost current competing tier. Issues noted in passing are the great risk of injury (we actually see the horse-riding accident that sidelines Branch Warren from Mr. O — admittedly, not a typical hazard for bodybuilders); the pros and cons of steroids (acknowledged as widely used); and different approaches toward maximum performance (most bizarre being Ben Pakulsky’s lab-rat paces under the scrutiny of medical researchers). Several intriguing personal dimensions go underexplored — since his gonzo alpha-male personality makes Greene a most unlikely fine artist, it would have been nice to hear him talk about the paintings we occasionally see him working on.
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Among the few humorous moments are viewing German Dennis “Big Bad” Wolf audition for a movie role — reading, let alone acting, does not appear to be his forte — and watching Winklaar get bossed around by Dutch trainer Sibil Peters, a former competing female bodybuilder now variously known as “Grandma” and “The Trainer from Hell.”
Less deliberate humor arises a few times from voiceover narration in which Mickey Rourke lends Darth Vader-esque gravity to such statements as “Pride and arrogance have been the downfall of many great men,” “A fallen warrior arrives in Las Vegas” and “The smell of victory teased his nostrils.”
Packaging is slick.