‘Arthur the King’ Review: A Charming Movie with Lots of Heart

Mark Wahlberg, the star of Arthur The King, had numerous peaks and valleys throughout his career. These include highlight performances in films like The Departed (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award) and The Fighter. On the flip side, he has also had many cinematic misfires like Max PayneThe Happeningand some films in the Transformers franchise. In the past few years, he has again had another pivot into family-friendly and faith-based entertainment. That said, those films still had an air of division among them. Given the unusual career trajectory, every Wahlberg film is plagued with the question of whether this will be good. 

If you’ve attended a movie theater recently, you have most likely seen the trailer for Arthur the King. The story follows Michael Light (Mark Wahlberg), an adventure racer looking for a second chance. After a failed race, Michael believes he has one more shot at redemption for his career. This involves a grueling 435-mile, week-long endurance race through the Dominican Republic. Along with his team (Ali SulmanNathalie EmmanuelSimu Liu), they embark on the treacherous journey, hoping to win it all. As they continue their trek, they adopt a stray dog along the way, who earns the name Arthur.

A premise such as this will make some audience members roll their eyes at the idea of another “dog movie” and at seeing Wahlberg play another character similar to himself. Thankfully, Arthur the King does not fall into that underwhelming category. However, it does take time for the film’s heart to shine through fully. This is mainly regarding the setup of getting Michael into the race. Wahlberg definitely plays into his expected tough guy (thankfully with no Boston accent) persona. It’s often grating in the first third of the film, which made me fear for the later portion. Thankfully, as the story progressed, my worries subsided. 

The film is based on the book titled Arthur – The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Way Home. Written by Mikael Lindnord (the real Michael Light), Wahlberg is forced to be subdued later on. In turn, it also makes the film much more than the expected Wahlberg leading man vehicle. Instead, the focus remains just as much on the dynamic with his team and the race itself. That offers real tension to the race sequences, which is a nice surprise. Simultaneously, that could leave some audience members asking when the dog appears. If the marketing did anything, it said that the film, first and foremost, was a dog movie. That is still undeniably true, but audiences should be prepared regarding one detail.

Is Arthur the King a dog movie?

Within the first half, Arthur is in a minor role, simply living as a stray. His first real bit of an “introduction” follows him surviving the streets in the Dominican Republic. More time is spent on the setup of Mark Wahlberg’s character. While he is an engaging screen presence, the early portions are simply cliched introductions. We learn the traits of the characters and what motivates them. That is nowhere near as interesting as the process and general mechanics of Michael’s team getting the proper sponsorship for the race. That is primarily regarding how it gives audiences a peek into this adventure racing world. 

Those looking for a straightforward dog movie could be disappointed at how long it takes for Arthur to arrive. While the first two-thirds do not have the expected emotionality, it has one effective aspect. The race sequences themselves have surprising amounts of tension and excitement. It also allows the film to be more than just a Mark Wahlberg show. Instead, we get to know his team and see their group dynamic. Even with the characters’ simplistic motivations, that camaraderie remains interesting. For some, that might not be enough to maintain the narrative moment.  

Arthur does not become an active piece in the story until the end of the second act. Once he arrives, he brings personality and genuine heart to the rest of the story. This starts with the inspiration he brings to the rest of the team. With their own interpersonal conflicts, Arthur helps to put things into an effective perspective. His interactions with Michael and the rest of the crew definitely have moments of comedy. They certainly are not bad, but it’s the heart and general humanity of these moments that pack a punch, particularly with how Michael grows to consider Arthur as part of the team. It offers real warmth that never feels disingenuous and could even bring tears to the eye.

Arthur the King offers Emotional honesty and tension balanced with heart

It’s the latter portion of the film that leans into more of the melodrama. Being based on a true story, some may want to look up the outcome. The marketing material has been vocal about stating the dog doesn’t die. For some, that will serve as a blessing in disguise for the enjoyment they will have. Knowing the dog does not mean the third act is without emotionally heavy beats. Having spent 90 minutes on this journey makes the cliches of the third act have an emotional resonance. By this point, Arthur and Michael’s relationship has grown organically over the film. In turn, it gives those melodramatic moments an inkling of emotional honesty to them. This has the potential to resonate with viewers

Arthur the King was a very pleasant surprise once the credits rolled. With the trailer being played for months on end, viewers may expect a predictable sports story. Instead, there is real tension balanced with charming amounts of heart. While starting out rocky, the film evolves into something meaningful at its core. The results of which help deliver a “mostly” worthy theatrical experience. While simplistic in places, the story’s core emotionality and heart help to enhance the journey, making for a meaningful adventure story. 

Arthur the King is now in theaters.

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