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Generation Iron - Review Posted on September 21, 2013  by jhansenmovies, and other comments from the internet.
Our thanks to jhansenmovies. 
“Generation Iron” –  Surface Muscle

“Generation Iron” opens with professional bodybuilder Kai Greene painting a picture of a bodybuilder on a large canvas. The obvious assertion is that Greene, one of best bodybuilders in the world who is vying for the coveted title of Mr. Olympia, is an artist of his own physique as well as in his paintings.


The thoughtful and sometimes somber documentary film, narrated with serious importance by Mickey Rourke, is the first movie since the iconic “Pumping Iron” (1977) to delve into the strange and often misunderstood sport of professional bodybuilding. “Generation Iron” documents the journey of seven pro bodybuilders as they prepare to enter the 2012 Mr. Olympia contest in Las Vegas. The Mr. Olympia is the Superbowl of Bodybuilding with only 13 champions in the 48 year history of the event.

The reigning champ, Phil Heath from Colorado, was a former college basketball player who eventually realized that his true talent lie in the sport of bodybuilding and not  in playing hoops. With a cocky persona that borders on arrogance, Heath is portrayed as someone who was born with genetic gifts not shared by his massive competitors. As he prepares both mentally and physically to defend his title, the film hints that the pressure of remaining the champion may be too much to bear for the man they call “The Gift”.

In stark contrast to Heath is his main challenger, Greene, who was abandoned by his mother and grew up in foster homes until he became a juvenile offender at a young age. Also possessing obvious talent for building muscle, Kai used the weight room as a means of channeling his aggression into something more positive. Remarkably soft spoken and introspective, Greene sees himself as an artist who uses his physique as a means of self expression.

In addition to the challenger and the champ, “Generation Iron” introduces us to another half dozen pro bodybuilders also vying for the Mr. Olympia title. There is Branch Warren, a Texas born bodybuilder who trains with ferocious intensity in a warehouse gym. Warren lives in a huge mansion with a large horse ranch and his persona permeates the tough, aggressive personality often associated with the bodybuilding world. Even though he has suffered several potentially career ending injuries, he continues to hurl his body with reckless abandon into his crazy workouts.

The polar opposite of Warren is the analytical and scientific Ben Pakulski from Florida. With outspoken self assuredness, Pakulski openly criticizes the non-sensical training style of Warren and the less intense work ethic of Heath. Relying on data obtained from tests performed on his exercise performance and bodyfat analysis at the University of Tampa, Pakulski reminds one of a modern day Ivan Drago from “Rocky IV” compared to the “training in the dungeon” atmosphere of Warren.

The heartbreak story of the film belongs to Victor Martinez, a New York city bodybuilder who was recently released from prison on an immigration violation charge. Struggling to regain his lost muscle mass in time for the Mr. Olympia contest, Martinez tries to overcome his setbacks with a positive attitude and hard workouts but the odds don’t seem in his favor.

The three remaining stories of bodybuilders Roelly Winklaar, Hidetada Yamagishi and Dennis Wolf do not contain the interest of the others in the film. The German born Wolf hopes to follow in the footsteps of his idol Arnold Schwarzenegger and become a movie star. However, his attempt to audition for a role in an upcoming  movie contains some of the film’s most unintentionally funny moments. Yamagishi, the only professional bodybuilder from Japan, laments the loneliness and isolation of competing in a sport his family does not understand. Winklaar, a huge man with a teddy bear persona, also lacks the charisma and substance needed to create a compelling character.

However, one of the most interesting personalities in “Generation Iron” comes in the form of Roelly’s trainer, an elderly former professional female bodybuilder who goes by the nickname of “Grandma”. As Winklaar’s personal coach and trainer, Grandma travels and rooms with her student, cooks his meals, applies his tanning lotion and cheers him on from the audience. With her thick accent and no nonsense approach to the disciplined lifestyle of the bodybuilder, Grandma gets more laughs than anyone else in the film.

Unfortunately, “Generation Iron” spreads itself too thin by focusing on so many athletes. Although we are given an opportunity to view the varied lifestyles of these professional bodybuilders, we are denied the chance to delve deeper into their motivations and desires. Greene, one of the most compelling characters in the film, never goes into detail about his troubled upbringing. Although we are informed of the tumultuous tribulations of Martinez by narrator Rourke, Victor himself is not given the chance to share the emotions of what he is going through.

The film preaches about how hard these bodybuilders work and the incredible discipline that is necessary to become a success. The controversial but inevitable subject of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs is also discussed but the bodybuilders themselves, for the most part, refuse to comment on the subject. However,  the film again misses the opportunity to spend more screen time on exactly how these super developed human beings build their physiques with their intense training and the complex but exact meals they consume every three hours.

 The big showdown at the end of the film, when the competitors meet in Las Vegas for the Mr. Olympia contest, is surprisingly toned down and lacking in the drama and suspense that the story has been leading up to. The majority of the film’s subjects are not even a factor in the finals, leaving only Heath and Greene to battle it out for the title.

The cocky but often insecure Heath is placed next to the laid back and sensitive Greene for the final showdown. The film does not spend enough screen time on the dramatic confrontation that we have been anticipating. Although we do get a good look at the two bodybuilders posing next to each other at the end, the subdued context (with Greene reminiscing about his days in foster care right before the final announcement) lacks the excitement and drama it could have had.

“Generation Iron” succeeds in showcasing the personalities involved in a strange and misunderstood sport but it loses a step in failing to reveal the deeper motivations and emotions of it’s subjects. It’s an interesting and sometimes compelling film about what it takes to succeed in a sport that requires incredible dedication but it just doesn’t go deep enough. (Maybe there will be a sequel.)


Another internet review.

A new generation, a new Pumping Iron.

What motivates someone to pick up a weight and sculpt their body? It’s different for everyone and nearly 40 years ago Pumping Iron explored the nascent bodybuilding culture that had sprung up. With the exercise industry booming in its wake, and bodybuilding becoming a niche sport and the supplement industry becoming a multi-billion dollar boom, it seems about right to go back to the world of hulking men trying to get as muscular as they can.

Generation Iron is a spiritual sequel to the film that debuted Arnold Schwarzenegger as a tour de force.

The film follows the men who’d make up most of the final competitor’s in the 2012 Mr. Olympia competition. Olympia is the biggest event of the year in bodybuilding, its Super Bowl of sorts, and as such the pressure is its greatest. Each competitor has a different story and motivations. The two primary ones are Phil Heath and Kai Greene.

Heath is the defending champion and viewed as the greatest of his generation. He has the perfect physique, et al. Grantland had a tremendous behind the scenes piece on his personal life, et al, but Heath is his generation’s Schwarzenegger. He’s got the physique, etc, and is on all of the muscle magazines. He’s straight out of central casting when it comes to being the best bodybuilder in the world.

Greene is his biggest rival, of course, and the man who many view as the one to be able to top Heath’s reign on top of Olympia. He’s an artist who loves to paint when he’s not pumping iron, a crowd favorite because of his hairstyle. His body is a piece of art like his paintings are; there’s an artist’s soul in this huge hulk of a man.

Narrated by Mickey Rourke, this is the story of Greene and Heath preparing for the biggest show of their careers while the also-rans try to topple the two men viewed at the top. What makes this an interesting film is that we get the best of a sports film (the competition) while getting just enough from the competitors to make it a compelling character study.

And the latter is why the documentary is as compelling for this generation as Pumping Iron was 40 years ago; it’s the personalities that matter the most. Why these guys do what they do is more important, cinematically, than just showing them working out and posing. Seeing Heath break everything he does down to get him ready for this one day, so that everything he does puts him at peak performance, gives you the reason why the competition means so much. Olympia, the central theme behind the film, becomes the ultimate proving ground for all involved.

The film is a showcase of the mentality of everyone and it’s all different. For all it’s hard work … but with various addendums. For some it’s scientific, trying to improve just a little bit more than everyone else. For someone like Greene it’s artistic; his body is the ultimate canvas and he wants to paint a masterpiece above the others. For Heath it’s more competition; he’s the best in the game and he has to get better or else he will lose his throne to any number of worthy competitors.

Mickey Rourke provides narration and it’s note perfect; you can tell it’s him early on because his voice is so unique but he doesn’t try to overpower the film, either. He wants to fade into the background and you barely notice him at times. The film does a terrific job of letting the real life tell the story, not the narration.

This is a number of the very best at what they do, the upper 1% of competitors, and why they do it. This is a film about the essence of the competition between the best at what they do and why they do it. It’s compelling and rich, a worthy successor to Pumping Iron in every way possible.


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