This surprisingly engrossing documentary follows bodybuilders as they train and compete to qualify for the 2012 Mr. Olympia competition in Las Vegas, Nevada. The film concentrates on seven different bodybuilders and presents compelling mini-portraits of each. Rather than detail the particulars and scoring of the sport, the film concentrates on personalities and competition. This proves to be a winning strategy as the bodybuilders prove to be unique and interesting. Fortunately, they are also articulate and charismatic as well, and approaching bodybuilding with a certain knowledge and gravity. Especially riveting are the personal stories and competition between current world champion Phil Heath and contender Kai Greene.
An appropriate heir to the seminal Pumping Iron, Generation Iron features interviews with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno from that 1977 film. The documentary is a work about the bodybuilders and doesn't descend into overly narcissistic or too adoring physical portraits. Certainly there are many gym shots and lots of posing, but these are all integral to the topic. The camera work is fluid and the editing sharp, articulate and advances the individual portraits and the overall storylines.
Mickey Rourke's narration provides an appropriate level of drama and importance as it details the men's training, adversities, failures, and triumphs. The film ends up being about much more than itself, much more than just bodybuilding or bodybuilders. Although a bit overlong, it is really a triumph of intelligent, strategic filmmaking.