Next Gen Film Review: New Look or More of the Same?
The 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games are about a month away, but tomorrow, fans of the sport can whet their appetites and relive the 2021 Games through the lens of Mariah Moore in her second solo endeavor at the helm of a CrossFit Games documentary.
The details: The film is titled Next Gen, but that phrase is not so much representative of the theme of this documentary, but rather an allusion to a question about the emerging next generation of CrossFit athletes and whether they’re ready to take over the pinnacle of the competition landscape at the Games.
The film both opens and closes with well-written and well delivered voice overs by Patrick Cummings, who you may recognize from several endeavors, including a variety of podcasts over the years including a brief stint with the Morning Chalk Up and a more entrenched role for podcasts with Ben Bergeron for CompTrain.
His voice overs are the driving force for the question accompanying the title, and there is an effort to check back in with that theme at times during the nearly two hour film, however, nothing from Cummings.
Perhaps one or two more of his voice overs at strategic moments throughout the middle of the film would have been appropriate to help keep the focus on the question that drives the film from the title forward.
Ultimately, the answer to that question is abundantly obvious throughout the film, which focuses primarily on the top three men and the top four women from last year’s CrossFit Games. Five of the seven of which are “old guard,” and all seven of whom had been on the podium prior to the 2021 Games.
Where is Dave Castro? Noticeably absent from the movie is the man who programmed the 2021 CrossFit Games, Dave Castro. On his YouTube channel, former Director of Sport and current Advisor to the CEO addressed the issue directly:
- “Here’s the deal with the documentaries and me. A few years ago I was watching one of the documentaries and it was too much of me. The next year was the same.” So Castro decided, “enough of me, I don’t want to be in the documentary. I don’t want to talk.”
He did the interviews once more, and was still unsatisfied with how much it centered on him. After that, “I was like, ok. I really don’t want this to happen, to have the same formula every time, where every single doc has me sitting down talking about the event or the programming. Finally I said, I’m not in it at all.”
Castro goes on to explain more, but for our purposes, if you’re still hoping to hear from someone who is and has been intimately involved with the programming and organization of the Games for a long time, you’re not out of luck. Filling the role that Castro no longer wanted is 2022 Director of Competition Adrian Bozman.
With his inclusion in this role, not only do we get the chance to have the perspective of someone from the core of the Games team offer insights into their thoughts and perspective; it simultaneously offers a chance to get a peek inside the mind of Bozman, with subtle offerings that could become relevant at the Games this year, or in years to come.
Where Next Gen delivers: Some of the biggest highlights are the emotional moments throughout the film surrounding topics such as injury*, cuts at the Games, and comeback stories that will live on in CrossFit lore forever. At multiple instances even casual observers will find themselves feeling for the athletes on screen and the ups and downs surrounding their story throughout that season. (*If you’re squeamish, be cautious during the Snatch event, you may want to look away.)
Who’s In and Who’s Out? In years past, one of the challenges these documentaries face is how many athletes, and which ones to include. With up to 80 individual athletes in the field, it’s just not practical to have camera teams following each one of them around throughout the weekend, so decisions must be made.
Given the title, I was especially curious to see how many of the “Next Gen” athletes would be featured when I knew most of the story would likely be about the podium contenders. The prospect of that excited me; but the excitement did not last.
When it came to the representation of the “Next Gen,” there was of course substantial content for eventual winner on the men’s side, Justin Mederios, who is at the forefront of the Next Gen era. In addition to him, the main Next Gen focuses were the clear and obvious choices based on performance and age: Gui Malheiros, Mallory O’Brien, and Emma Cary.
However, there’s hardly anything on perhaps the two most relevant Next Gen female athletes to this point, who also happened to finish fifth and sixth last year, in Haley Adams and Gabriela Migala. Nor is there anything on the young man who beat Medeiros in Semifinals and was a huge talking point leading into the Games; Jayson Hopper. All three of whom are certainly part of the Next Gen, and as such, seemingly could have had a bigger role.
As mentioned, it’s not possible to include in-depth stories on all the athletes; however, given the title, it left a little to be desired in terms of breath of inclusion for the group of athletes who are represented by the title of the film.
“It’s not possible to include in-depth stories on all the athletes; however, given the title, it left a little to be desired.”
The most dominant, dominates: As expected, and appropriately so, “the most dominant athlete” in the history of the sport, Tia-Clair Toomey gets ample screen time.
- What she’s accomplishing in the sport currently is unprecedented, even when stacked up against the likes of Froning and Fraser.
Some of that is seen, but in comparison to previous films like Froning: the Fittest Man in History (2014) and the Redeemed and the Dominant (2017), that point is not hammered home in the same way. The choice to lead with Next Gen makes that difficult to do, and the fall out is that both storylines come up short.
The big picture: As Castro mentioned in his week in review (linked above), the documentaries historically follow a fairly similar outline, “action, cut to athlete interview, cut to me, cut to whoever from HQ interview,” he said.
If you’re a fan of that format, then perhaps this is the best one yet. The cinematography, videography, and presentation are excellent and compelling (and there’s a montage after the credits that is worth the price of admission alone).
Where it’s lacking is creativity and innovation relative to its predecessors. They broke from the norm with the title, and gave hopes of a different flavor or flare. They teased at it with the well orchestrated opening voiceover. But in the meat of the movie it was more of the same.
Those interested in watching the movie can preorder here, or purchase on Apple, Vimeo, and Amazon after the official release on July 5, 2022.