‘Arthur The King’ Is Not Great, But It Tugs On The Heartstrings


The new film by Simon Cellan Jones, Arthur the King, does not plow any new ground. You can figure out the plot from the trailer… maybe even from the film’s poster. But it is sweet and fun. Based on the nonfiction book by Mikael Lindnord, this plays out like a hundred earlier sports dramas. The little guy underdogs show everyone what they “really got.” Except in this case, the underdog is an actual dog.

Michael Light (Mark Wahlberg) is a more or less washed-up extreme athlete (these are the nuts who do absolutely crazy things for some odd reason which I, as a more or less couch potato, do not understand) who wants to build a team to take on an extreme Iron Man race through 435 miles of Dominican jungle. Yes, it’s more than a bit nuts, not to mention dangerous, but his loving wife Helena (Juliet Rylance) agrees that he can have one last chance to risk death and wreck everything.

He puts together the usual collection of slightly offbeat characters needed to make the film interesting as team members. They include Leo (Simu Liu), Olivia (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Chik (Ali Suliman). They, of course, bicker charmingly. Well, not really. Michael screwed up an earlier competition, which infuriated Leo, who is now a social media star. The only way Michael can get funding is by convincing Leo to join his team. After admitting his earlier mess, he gets Leo to join. Olivia is the daughter of a former racer, and Chik, a champion with a damaged knee.

Adventure racing forces teams to travel by hiking, climbing, biking, rowing and any other means to cross natural terrain, and that leads to some spectacular action scenes. The best is a broken zip line scene that had me on the edge of my seat. I actually had the feeling I was there and in the middle of the disaster! Things were moving with action about as fast as anything I have ever seen, particularly thanks to great editing. It is a form of sensory overload.

And then, partway through the event, a straggly, clearly abused dog jumps out of the jungle and enchants the team members with his antics. He is dubbed Arthur, because they feel he handles himself like a king, and they feed him meatballs in a very cute scene. But then they head out the next day and leave him behind. But somehow he follows and joins them for dinner. And he follows them through thick and thin as they run, jump, swim, boat, etc. He becomes more than a mascot; he becomes in many ways the center of the team. He shouldn’t be there, and although generally very helpful, also presents problems. The jungle is a dangerous place, particularly when you are both small and not created to be a jungle critter. It should be so easy to leave him behind, but at first they can’t and later they just won’t.

Clearly, Arthur is a handicap, but the team won’t leave him. Time after time they have to fight to save his life, and that slows them down. But the film makes clear they are doing the right thing, not necessarily the thing that makes them win the competition. This shamelessly plays on our emotions. As a dog lover, I felt more horror pangs for the poor dog than for most humans in some of our horror movies.

When Arthur finally does break down and Michael rushes him for medical care, I could hear the audience gasp. In other words, it plays on our emotions the way movies should.

The cast is good. In most cases in this type of film, we only have stereotypes. Here the performers worked hard to be real characters. And that helped the real star of the movie, the dog. Once the movie slows to allow for the pup, we can see the real characters of the players come out.

Yes, it is contrived, even though somewhat based on a real story. In the book, the team was Swedish, and the race was not in the Dominican Republic, but that has little to do with the kind of feelings brought out.

Again, not a great film and very predictable. But then again, sometimes it’s fun to sniff the flowers along the way. For dog lovers, this is wonderful. And if not, it’s still a really nice ride.