“Ronnie Coleman: The King” (2018) is a more focused entry from Vlad Yudin, this film benefits from the singular, but immensely fascinating exploration of Ronnie Coleman’s life and career as a bodybuilder. For those (like me) who were born too early to appreciate Coleman’s lengthy reign as Mr Olympia, the film provides both the classic and lesser-seen training videos, as ‘King’ Coleman shifts impossible weights in brilliantly-coloured training gear. Read on for our full review of Ronnie Coleman: The King (2018).
The film continues the trend of Vlad Yudin’s other documentaries, featuring the biggest stars in bodybuilding from the 90’s and early 2000’s. Pro-bodybuilders like Shawn Ray, Flex Wheeler, Rich Gaspari and former Mr Olympia’s Jay Cutler and Dorian Yates are all given ample screen time discussing their former rival. But unique to this documentary is an intimate, emotional insight provided by Ronnie’s family and friends, revealing what fuelled the 8x Mr Olympia.
This documentary is significantly more ‘simple’ in its scope compared to other Generation Iron productions. Exploring the life of Ronnie Coleman, from the present, where he is preparing for another surgery on his back, to his past including his rise, reign and fall as a champion bodybuilder.
The film opens on an old video of Ronnie at his day job, a police officer offering some perspective on his size compared to the average person, before cutting to his modern physique allowing for some reflection on the costs of his training routine and lifestyle that ultimately took him to the top of the sport.
The Film Benefits from Great Editing
One area of the film that excels is the editing. Whilst Yudin’s previous entries on bodybuilding have all been well shot and edited, “Ronnie Coleman: The King” differs somewhat. Throughout the documentary we see the larger-than-life Ronnie, benching 200lb dumbbells or squatting 800lbs, screaming his internationally-renowned catchphrases. It then immediately cuts to the present, with the less able-bodied Ronnie reflecting on his journey or just going about his daily routine, clearly in pain (though he seldom admits to it) and struggling to walk.
Although the viewer is reminded of the parable of Icarus and the cost of achieving success, any melancholy is short-lived thanks to Ronnie’s attitude. His lack of regret and seeming happiness at his more family and business-focused lifestyle is oddly poignant – especially when framed with his Olympia competitors lamenting the cost and toll it placed on Coleman’s body.
As stated, my knowledge of this era of bodybuilding is restricted to the history books, so hearing it from the competitors and renowned bodybuilding journalist Peter McGough is a rare treat. It offers an insight into the industry in the post-Dorian Yates era and the assumed open-field nature of the 1998 Olympia, where Coleman was considered an unknown and Flex Wheeler the likely candidate for the title. But in a subtle manner (perhaps almost too subtle), Vlad presents a fork in the road regarding the bodybuilding industry.
Judge’s Preferences for Sheer Muscle Mass over Aesthetics
Compared to the other competitors at the ’98 Olympia, Ronnie Coleman dwarfs them in size, more so than Dorian Yates had previously. Coleman’s victory represents a shift in judging preference towards sheer-mass, compared to the flow that competitors like Flex Wheeler presented and largely offering an explanation as to why modern bodybuilders look the way they do.
The Fall of Ronnie Coleman
The documentary ties together, the ultimate fall of Ronnie Coleman with his eventual loss to Jay Cutler at the 2006 Olympia. Interestingly, this isn’t discussed with Coleman, but with his rivals and their opinions on how the champion’s body gradually changed with every successive win.
It sheds light on athletes’ perceptions about Ronnie and that despite the quality of his stage appearances arguably dropping, many still believe his original Olympia debut, was his best and probably unbeatable by any Olympian, before and after his reign. Nonetheless, his loss in 2006 is emotional and his attempted comeback in 2007 almost seems a desperate attempt – but as Journalist McGough pointed out, they won’t remember Ronnie for his 2007 appearance.
Despite Serious Back Surgery, Ronnie’s Mindset makes for an Intriguing Study in Positivity
Throughout the film, a countdown is shown marking each chapter and the time remaining until his back surgery. Although the nature of the surgery is serious, Coleman never seems to waiver in his positive outlook or (despite medical advice) stop training. Though the size of the weights dropped drastically in comparison with those used in his 90’s training videos, his passion and enjoyment are still clearly present, providing a simpler suggestion of what motivates the king.
“Ronnie Coleman: The King”, sets out to do something significantly different to the other Generation Iron films. The more focused narrative on Ronnie’s life is successful at being simultaneously emotional yet entertaining.
It offers an insight into the bodybuilding scene during the 90’s at arguably one of its most pivotal points from those that were affected by it, offering the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from numerous former pros and champions. When paired with the numerous classic training and stage video clips, the energy of these competitors is felt more so than in any other documentary.
It avoids the politics of previous entries, shunning the topics of steroids completely – for better and for worse. When discussing the strongest and biggest bodybuilder of all time, it seems an odd topic to dismiss considering the juxtaposed editing of the film. Yet it is arguably unnecessary to include considering at a professional level, it becomes a moot point.