Generation Iron 2: Does It Live Up to the Original?
updated January 1, 2019
Generation Iron 2 is the supposed sequel to the 2013 feature length bodybuilding documentary, Generation Iron. The original attempted to emulate the massively successful formula established by 1977’s classic Pumping Iron by following the paths of the two top contenders to the Mr. Olympia competition. In 1977 it was Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno. In 2013 it was Phil Heath and Kai Greene. So, who would it be in the 2019 version?
As it turned out it was no one. The film is a departure from the winning formula in that, its focus is on the warriors who are contending for the ultimate prize, but, rather the internet entrepreneurs who are contending with each other to line their own pockets.
It features such bodybuilding celebrities as Kai Greene, Rich Piana, and Flex Wheeler. So, is it as good as the original?
The Focus of the Original
The original Generation Iron chronicled seven top IFBB pro bodybuilders as they trained for and competed in the 2012 Mr. Olympo competition. They are reigning champ Phil Heath, the guy biting at his heels Kai Greene and contenders Branch Warren, Dennis Wolf, Ben Pakulski, Roelly Winklaar, Victor Martinez and Japan’s Hidetada Yamagishi. The film is narrated by actor Mickey Rourke. It features appearances by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno and Mike Katz from the movie Pumping Iron, which was its inspiration.
The movie fails to capture the excitement or personality of Pumping Iron but does manage to capture a snapshot of what the modern pro bodybuilding scene is all about.
Generation Iron 2 Focus
The focus is on the evolution of bodybuilding and where it is headed as a sport. As such, it is far more inclusive of the new players in the industry, specifically the modern-day stars of the internet. Yet, it still features some older, perhaps wiser characters. Lee Haney, eight-time Mr. Olympia comments, as does four-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler. These icons of the industry talk about the impact of social media on the changing face of bodybuilding. Hall of Famer Rich Gaspari also chimes in, giving some less than flattering opinions of the modern ‘stars’ of bodybuilding.
A common concern among the older generation is the way that the modern YouTube guys talk so openly about the drugs that they take to look the way they look.
Throughout the course of the movie, we also follow Kai Greene, three-time Arnold Classic champ and three-time Mr. O runner up, as he promotes himself as an artist. Greene has given up on his dream to claim Mr. Olympia and, in doing, so reached a far broader audience to become the most famous bodybuilder on the planet – even more so than 6 times Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath.
A lot of people have dismissed Generation Iron 2 because it focuses on social media guys. While that is true, the film is worthwhile in that it provides us with a unique bird’s eye view of how you’re perceived, how you can monetize your following and how you can be successful independently of winning a competition onstage.
Generation Iron 2 is a well planned out documentary that covers the modern face of bodybuilding in the internet age. It features perspectives from stars in England, as well as the voice of NPC President Jim Manion and even the Governator himself, the inimitable Arnold.
Who Are the Stars of the Movie?
Generation Iron 2 does focus on specific individuals. One of them is Calum Von Moger, the Australian bodybuilder who is often compared to young Schwarzenegger. Von Moger is gunning for the Classic Physique, as opposed to the Open Men’s Olympia crown. It also focuses on established stars Kai Green, and Iris Kyle, as well as an internet sensation, the late Rich Piana.
Calum is portrayed as a guy who’s not really into bodybuilding but is capitalizing on his amazing genetics. They highlight that, though his goal is to compete on the Olympia stage, he doesn’t display the Olympic style focus hunger that is required to succeed at this level. This may have been an attempt to mirror the uber-confidence that Arnold displays in the lead up to the 1975 Mr. O. in Pumping Iron, but it doesn’t come off that way. Instead, we come off with the impression that Calum is a lazy and unfocused competitor who is trading on his natural gifts.
When it comes to Rich Piana, we get a brief backstory of a failed bodybuilder who chose to go his own route in order to make his mark and earn some serious moolah.
Piana is painted as the black sheep of the bodybuilding community. In turn, bodybuilding is painted is the black sheep of the sports community.
The movie starts with the biggest drawcard in bodybuilding right now, Kai Greene. We’re told that it is no longer his ambition to become Mr. Olympia.
He is now involved with a company called Dynamic Muscle and taking acting lessons as he seeks to turn his talents into Hollywood success. Greene explains that, whereas when he was coming up he was willing to go into the gym and put 500 pounds on his back to grind it out until he either fainted or puked, now he was no longer willing to do that.
But, the movie fails to dig deeper here to find out just what happened to make this change in his mindset.
The next focus is Iris Kyle. Iris discusses how she was impacted by the demise of female bodybuilding.
She emphasizes that female bodybuilding is not a beauty pageant – it is about how much muscle the women can carry. That is what they should have been rated on. Iris also talks briefly about the muscle worshipping subculture, those who are willing to pay good money to spend time with ultra muscular women.
Why You Might Be Disappointed
The basic problem with the documentary is that it seems to be disjointed. You may feel that the movie is all over the place with no central thread tying the individual scenes together. In the first movie, as in Pumping Iron, you had the protagonist and the antagonist. And, love him or hate him, Phil Heath, gave a good positive representation to the sport, as he explained that bodybuilders, though maligned, are able to do something that the vast majority of the population want to do but can’t – lose fat and build muscle at the same time.
Yet, Generation Iron 2 feels as if the producers of the movie managed to get a whole bunch of unrelated clips and then pieced them together in order to force some type of narrative.
It could have been a much more enlightening documentary if the producers had focused on the contrast between the old school bodybuilders versus the new school. They could have given us a lot more on the in and outs of how Rich Piana transformed himself from an old school bodybuilder who was going nowhere in the pre-internet age into a unique personality, how he created Mutant and then 5% and how that led to his success. We would have loved to have learned he went from a guy who wasn’t good enough to go pro to the second biggest star in the industry (behind Kai Greene but ahead of reigning Mr. Olympia Phil Heath).
Same thing with Calum. They could have gone into much more detail about where he came from. We only know him through social media, whereas, back in the day, bodybuilders had to grind their way up by actually winning competitions before we heard about them. That contrast would have been fascinating to delve into but, unfortunately, the makers of Generation Iron 2 fail to capitalize on it.
The impact of the internet on the supplement industry would have been another fascinating sub-topic. Back in the pre-internet era, the major supplement companies like Optimum Nutrition and BSN contracted only the top Professional Bodybuilders to promote their line. Today, internet stars such as Rich Piana have brought out their own lines of supplements. So are established legends like Kevin Levrone, after building up a massive social media following.
There is also a story to be told about those top pros who have suddenly stopped competing. Along with Kai Greene, we have Dana Lynn Bailey and Steve Cooke.
The Final Verdict
Don’t expect to sit down with this move and see an update of Pumping Iron. No movie will ever match up to this classic, even when it does attempt to do so, which this movie does not.
The first movie tried – and failed. But, when you go into this movie looking for a revealing and insightful expose of the modern face of the sport, you will enjoy the experience. Whether you’re a competitive bodybuilder, recreational iron pumper or someone who is looking to monetize their love of bodybuilding, you will find something useful in it.
So what did you think of Generation Iron 2? Was it worth your time and money or would you have been better off buying a tub of protein powder? Let us know what you think in the comments below.