The compelling and energetic documentary "Generation Iron" enjoyably profiles an array of larger-than-life challengers in the 2012 Mr. Olympia competition, a.k.a. the Super Bowl of muscle contests. Comparisons to 1977's influential "Pumping Iron," which introduced many to the then-recondite world of bodybuilding, are inevitable. But this new film, skillfully crafted by Russian-born writer-director Vlad Yudin (he was also a producer), stands on its own two very well-defined legs.
Yudin, shooting in New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas and elsewhere, gets up close and personal with a kind of magnificent seven of bodybuilders as they prepare for, then participate in, the Olympia showdown in Las Vegas. These athletes include 2011 Mr. Olympia winner Phil Heath, Brooklyn underdog Kai Greene, Texas maverick Branch Warren, Japanese emigré Hidetada Yamagishi, Germany's Dennis Wolf, Curacao-born Roelly Winklaar and the forward-thinking Ben Pakulski. If you think size doesn't matter, think again.
These hugely dedicated, uniquely confident men are an intriguing, eye-popping bunch, whether seen mega-training, eating (massive amounts), spending private time with family or generally staying psyched for the looming contest. Some offer more depth than others (the vividly coiffed Greene, haunted by a rough childhood, brings the most emotion to bear), but all have distinctly impressive work ethics and methodologies.
While such issues as self-sacrifice, self-absorption and other physical/emotional tolls of pro bodybuilding are touched on, the film largely, perhaps smartly, low-keys the sport's darker side (steroids are addressed, but little specific dirt is dished). Also notable: Yudin's deft cameras admiringly capture these iconically sculpted men without overly objectifying them, should the prospect of eyeballing all that posing-strapped beef give any potential viewers pause.
"Pumping Iron" alumni Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno and Mike Katz also appear along with more recent muscle greats as Victor Martinez, Jay Cutler and Dennis James. Actor Mickey Rourke, with his world-weary rumble of a voice, proves an apt narrator.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and brief strong language
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Playing: Regal's LA Live Stadium 14, Los Angeles; Cinemark's Rave Cinemas 18, Los Angeles; AMC's Orange 30; AMC's Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park; AMC's Ontario Mills 30, OntarioCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun