Generation Iron 2

3 out of 5

Directed by: Vlad Yudin

Generation Iron gave us an interestingly balanced insight into the world of bodybuilding leading up to the 2012 Mr. Olympias, embracing the outlier nature of the sport but also underlining that it is a sport, and one that requires an all-in type of dedication not common in other pursuits.  Vaguely built around the competition between Kai Green and Phil Heath, Mickey Rourke’s sombre narration gave the film some appreciative grounding, and director Vlad Yudin smartly explored the two different shades of personalities that Green and Heath represented.

There’s no Mickey Rourke in Generation Iron 2, and although it ends with a competition, it feels rather tacked on just to have a conclusion; GI 2 is lacking in the same sense of build and structure as its preceding entry, which is a shame, as Yudin stumbles across an absolutely fascinating – and logical – extension of what he’d started, featuring internet stars Calum von Moger and Rich Piana speaking to the evolution of bodybuilding, with social media allowing for stardom and branding even if you don’t have a trophy to your name.  We followup with Kai Greene – now retired from competing, hoping to explore more with art in comic books, and acting – and touch on a further change in the sport, the elimination of the Ms. Olympia competition, by talking to ten time Ms. Olympia Iris Kyle.

All of these people are interesting to listen to, and signs of the way things have massively changed just between the two Generation Iron films.  Von Moger, initially seeming rather humble and self-aware, comes across as increasingly naive the more we hear from him, while Rich Piana, promoting himself as rather freakishly large and owning up to his steroid usage, proves to be a surpringly intelligent interview.  Iris Kyle (and some of the other people spoken to – Shawn Ray, Rich Gaspari) represent what might be seen as the last wave of pre-social media bodybuilding, somewhat conflicted on what the sport now means, while Kai Greene (and some short moments with Jay Cutler) suggest what a positive life after the spotlight can look like.

There’s something absolutely fascinating here, with something that was such a closeted, had-to-seek-it-out sport can now be a lifestyle that allows people like Calum to move countries, drive fancy cars, and have a career, mostly established via an online presence.  On a meta level, we see Yudin in front of the camera more often than before, signaling (whether purposefully or not) that there’s more of an element of showmanship being displayed in Generation Iron 2.  But while he presses his subjects for their thoughts on what all this change means, the film remains unsure of what to do with that, stuck between a type of worship of the practice but also hinting at how this kind of exposure may just worsen the type of obsessiveness already encouraged by the “must be the best” mentality that’s driven people to pursue more and more muscle over the years.  There’s something more incisive here, which makes the first portion of the flick rather gripping, but the movie pulls back from that angle in its second half and starts to wander around for another subject, just kind of stumbling into the 2016 Mr. Olympia for its conclusion.