The documentary Generation Iron posits that the structure of success in bodybuilding is built along a hypothetical fault line with talent on one side and hard work on the other.
For a movie centred on the physical manifestation of power, it's a shaky premise: Clearly success is achieved through a blend of the two properties. But the image does serve to help filmmaker Vlad Yudin delineate the chasm between returning champ Phil Heath and his most serious competitor, Kai Green, as they and a sampling of other competitors train over the course of a year for the 2012 title of Mr. Olympia, the ultimate bodybuilding prize.
No less an authority than former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up early to explain the curious nature of body-building as equal parts sport, entertainment and art form. In this latter capacity, Kai Greene has an edge. The first image of the film is Green painting brawny physiques on a canvas, followed by shots of him posing on a subway platform in a kabuki mask. In addition to his gigantic pecs and delts, the guy has an eye.
Also, Greene is hungry for the title, coming from humble origins, abandoned by his mother in his teens and consigned to foster homes and institutions for much of his life. By contrast, the immaculately groomed Heath, with his lovely wife and a lovely home, is only struggling to hold onto the title for the second year in an effort to prove he is no flash in the pan. Other competitors include Branch Warren, a formidable bodybuilder with the disposition and scientific technique of an angry redneck, Dennis Wolf, a German aspiring to Schwarzenegger's film career (Yudin captures a mortifying movie audition), and a rare Japanese competitor Hidetada Yamagishi, who says his career choice has alienated him from his family back in Japan.
Actor Mickey Rourke's narration tends to distract, for no other reason that it recalls his hard-boiled voice-overs in Sin City in the character of brutal palooka Marv. The noir vibe is further aggravated by Yudin's pseudo-poetic script. ("The smell of victory teased his nostrils.")
Even so, the film offers some insightful glimpses into the contemporary world of bodybuilding, from trash-talking to steroid abuse.