DVD Review: Generation Iron

STUDIO: Anchor Bay | DIRECTOR: Vlad Yudin
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 5/13/2014 | PRICE: DVD $24.98
BONUSES: making-of featurette, interviews, deleted scenes
SPECS: PG-13 | 106 min. | Documentary | 1.78:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes):
Movie  | Audio | Video | Overall

 

 

A slickly­-assembled meditation on the glitzy world of professional bodybuilding, Generation Iron follows a select group of men in their quest to become the next Mr. Olympia. Despite being fairly predictable in its structure, the film provides intimate access into the lives and training of its subjects as the story climaxes with the 2012 championship itself, making it an obvious must­-see for fans of the sport worldwide and, of course, it’s Pumping Iron predecessors.

Generation Iron movie sceneFor everyone else, however, the flaws are a little too gaping to make this a memorable follow-up. Yes, it’s well-­shot, edited, and told, but far from making us care about these hopefuls, Generation Iron assumes the luster of the competition itself is enough to keep us hooked. Reverently narrated by an overly-­dramatic Mickey Rourke (Immortals), the film paints a drama of Shakespearean proportions, as if the fate of the world rides with these men—whom we never really get to know them. Director Vlad Yudin offers us a handful of two­-dimensional, stock character descriptions: the foster­ home kid from tough Brooklyn streets, the underdog foreigner considered a misfit in his country, the returning champ struggling to stay on top of the heap. These guys would all fit perfectly within Frank Miller’s comic­ noir Sin City, but here in a documentary they lack the depth you would hope to find. The potential was there, but the opportunity wasted.

Part of the reason could be political; I’m not sure who paid for this, but the film’s reverential tone hints that the International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness (IFBB), who runs Mr. Olympia, had (at the very least) a strong say in the film’s development, making sure their image remained crisp and clean. One of the bodybuilders makes a reference to the behind­-the­-scenes politics of the sport, but that’s about it in terms of any kind of critical look or insight into the bodybuilding industry. For the most part, we’re expected to believe that these men are an elite group who exemplify the greatest qualities mankind possesses, even if watching them grin and grit their teeth onstage while assuming the most bizarre poses in their ends up being simultaneously hilarious and freakish.

And that’s too bad, because the film begins by acknowledging that the world sees them as freaks. Had it then defied our stereotypes and made us understand what would lead these men into such a strange career path, it would have been a brilliant documentary. Instead, Generation Iron is full of dopey sound bites that make our subjects sound like the meat-heads everyone assumes they are. They don’t seem like bad guys, and bodybuilders like Kai Greene (who is clearly an eccentric guy with some genuine talent as a painter) hint that there’s a lot more to these men than muscle. But, unfortunately, the potential remains untapped. By the time you get to the championship, you should be on the edge of your seat, but the competition’s vague rules seem so arbitrary and subjective, the film’s climax inadvertently ends up playing like a long­-lost Christopher Guest mockumentary, a human version of Best In Show.

Generation Iron is solidly told and entertaining enough to watch, but if you’re not already drinking the Kool­-Aid, the film doesn’t give you much reason to start.

 

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.