Arthur the King

Arthur the King is one of those movies that get animal lovers worriedly asking me, “Does the dog die?” It probably wouldn’t be fair to say, but the story absolutely plays on that concern. To call it heart-tugging would be an understatement. The film, based on a true story, practically sticks its hand inside your chest to physically yank your heart out. Emotional manipulation can work, as dog-related pictures like Marley & Me and Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey proved. There’s a line, however, and Arthur crosses it, ending up in the realm of corniness.

Michael Light (Mark Wahlberg) is an “adventure racer” who takes part in grueling days-long competitions that involve hiking, climbing, canoeing, and other events. His ego has always prevented him from winning, a fact that spurs him to give it one last try after a few years off. Michael assembles three teammates (Simu Liu, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Ali Suliman) and sets out for the Dominican Republic. Seventy-two hours into the race, a stray, sickly dog starts following them. They dub him Arthur and he becomes a de facto member of the team.

The movie’s whole approach to this story is confused. Arthur doesn’t become a significant factor until halfway through. Before then, we get a lot of scenes of Michael and team either bickering or performing arduous physical tasks. Surprisingly, it makes adventure racing look sort of boring, as we get little snatches followed by those “dotted lines on a map” animations to infer how far they’ve traveled. The only exception is a preposterous, if admittedly vertiginous sequence in which one team member gets stuck halfway down a zip line and Michael has to take an extreme measure to get her unstuck.


Once Arthur is finally integrated into the plot, he’s weirdly anthropomorphized. We’re supposed to believe he understands what Michael is saying to him. He’s a dog in a country where English is not the native language, so that’s stretching it. Other times, he puts a paw on Michael’s arm or gazes at him meaningfully. Animals and humans can certainly develop a bond, but Arthur the King wants us to believe something magical is happening between the two. If additional time at the beginning had been spent showing Michael and Arthur together, that might have worked. However, the movie is a slave to the adventure racing element, leaving their relationship feeling forced instead of organic.

The last act is where things most fully fall apart. There’s still nearly half an hour when the race ends. It’s spent repeatedly dangling that pesky “Does the dog die?” question at you. Shots of the suffering animal are utilized to get a knee-jerk reaction. And the way the film answers the question of whether he dies? You don’t get much sappier.

Wahlberg is sincere in his role. Everybody else is one-note. Liu’s character is obsessed with his social media presence, Emmanuel’s is sad about her father’s terminal illness, and so on. Michael has a wife back home who does nothing except sit in front of a computer tracking his position and cheering for victory. Not even Arthur himself is all that compelling. When a movie can’t make a cute dog worth caring about, something is very wrong.

At least Arthur the King’s heart is in the right place. Although unsuccessful, an attempt is made to suggest that Arthur’s presence changes Michael during the climax. That allows the plot to make a detour around the standard issue of who wins the race. Then it’s immediately back to the unearned sentiment designed to choke you up. Theaters should give away crackers at the concession stand to go with all this movie’s cheese.

out of four

Arthur the King is rated PG-13 for some strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan