Mark Wahlberg hanging onto Arthur in Arthur the King | Agents of Fandom

‘Arthur the King’ Uses Man’s Best Friend To Tug at the Heart Strings

Michael and his crew find an unlikely companion on the road to moral victory.

Let’s face the facts, any movie that features a dog as one of its main characters is trying to make its audience cry at one point or another. From director Simon Cellan Jones comes a flawed but emotionally resonant film inspired by a true story that follows a group of racers who meet a mutt out on the trail who changes their lives forever. Arthur the King takes a while to find its bearings, but once it hits its stride, it drives home one of the most powerful connections in the history of humankind: a man and his dog.

With a stunningly short runtime of just one hour and 30 minutes, Arthur the King moves fast, almost to a fault. It gives the audience little time to connect with the characters before putting them in dangerous and devastating situations, but there’s a catch — by planting a loveable stray dog in the middle of the chaos, the lack of significant character development just doesn’t matter at the end when you’re bawling your eyes out in concern for Arthur.

‘Arthur the King’ Review: A Powerfully Poignant but Poorly Optimized Adventure Drama

Simu Liu hanging upside down on a zip line in Arthur the King | Agents of Fandom
Simu Liu shines in Arthur the King, showcasing his range as a stuck-up and sometimes-conflicted social media influencer. Image Credit: Lionsgate.

Arthur the King is essentially split down the middle into two different movies: one focusing on Michael (Mark Wahlberg) and his team preparing for the race, and another centering around Arthur and his connection with the team, mostly Michael. By not introducing Arthur meaningfully until nearly the halfway point in the film — minus one, maybe two short scenes — the first act falls flat and ultimately feels unimportant. It has a compelling plot; there are reasons to root for Michael and his team. But knowing their motives will shift once Arthur joins the equation leaves these reasons feeling hollow.

Although the race has some thrilling highs, by and large, it is dreadfully boring. While designed to have an authentic feel by following the athletes through the ups and downs of the treacherous terrain, the camera work is more frustrating than anything. This method doesn’t work as intended, and many shots seem as if the camera crew were bouncing on a trampoline while filming. Even during the brief periods when the race is interesting, the shoddy camera work yanks the viewer straight out of the immersion.

None of the performances in Arthur the King will take home any Academy Awards, but a few members of the cast bring some serious charm. Simu Liu in particular, who plays a social media influencer whom the team needs due to his large following, is a bright spot throughout. Both Mark Wahlberg and Nathalie Emmanuel also show up in a big way, Wahlberg as the team leader and Emmanuel as a fearless rock climber. However, the true star of the show doesn’t say a word.

Arthur Steals the Show and Dominates the Screen

A close up still of the dog that plays Arthur in Arthur the King | Agents of Fandom
Unsurprisingly, the dog who plays Arthur is the true MVP of Arthur the King, despite being underutilized in the first half of the movie. Image Credit: Lionsgate.

A dog’s ability to pull emotion out of an audience in a film is unparalleled. Arthur the King changes when, early in the race, a stray dog wanders up to the team, and they decide to feed him out of the kindness of their heart without thinking twice. While the team thinks this is nothing more than a one-off encounter, Arthur becomes the catalyst for their desire to win and a driving message behind how far people will go for their pets.

Once the crew realizes Arthur’s continued appearance can’t be anything less than a miracle, they quickly develop a bond with him. In a way, despite everything that each member of the team has had to sacrifice and fight their way through to make it to where they are today, it’s Arthur who is the strongest character in the movie. His resilience and unwillingness to quit bring a tear to the eye. He acts as a metaphor for friendship while reminding everyone that the only way to make it through life’s many hardships is to lean on the people you love.

If You’re Comfortable Fighting Back Tears, ‘Arthur the King’ Is Worth a Trip to the Theater

Mark Wahlberg talking on the phone in Arthur the King | Agents of Fandom
Mark Wahlberg plays an archetype that is not unfamiliar to him in Arthur the King, but as always, he plays it with grace and finesse. Image Credit: Lionsgate.

Arthur the King is far from a perfect movie, but Arthur the dog’s very presence and enduring persona are enough to warrant a trip to the theater. But be warned, this movie sets out to put the audience through the emotional ringer, and the last 15–20 minutes pull this off effortlessly. If you have a pet, you’ll want to come straight home from the theater and squeeze them as hard as you can.

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'Arthur the King' Review

'Arthur the King' Review
3.5 5 0 1
3.5 rating
Total Score

The Good

  • Once Arthur joins the fold, the film is a delight.
  • There are some beautiful, sweeping shots of the landscape.
  • Charming performances bring some much-needed chemistry to the group.

The Bad

  • A slow start leaves much to be desired.
  • The movie takes way too long to effectively introduce Arthur.
  • Shaky and jumpy camera work can dampen the experience.
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