‘Arthur the King’ Review: Ruff Around the Edges

Written by Matt Rodriguez

Dogs are practically a surefire way to make any film better. They’re an adorable and easy way to pull on the heartstrings of any audience. But there’s only so much of the heavy lifting they can do. Case in point; Arthur the King. The film follows the unbelievable true story about a team of extreme adventurers who encounter the unlikeliest canine companion while on a 435-mile race through treacherous mountains and jungles. Ukai the dog steals every scene he’s in as the loveable Arthur, but the rest of the film struggles to keep up the pace. There’s little sense of adventure as the film fails to adequately capture the grueling nature of the race. Arthur the King is ruff around the edges, and while it eventually crosses the finish line, it does so limping.

Michael (Mark Wahlberg) has spent his entire life training and competing as a pro adventure racer but has never won the 435-mile Adventure Racing World Championship. With each passing year and loss, it becomes more and more difficult to find sponsors willing to take a chance on him. As his age finally begins to catch up with him, this may be his final chance to take home the gold. Together with a ragtag team of talented but flawed adventurers, Michael is barely able to qualify for the championship. Over the course of the 10-day event, they meet the unlikeliest of companions; a mutt who follows them every step of the way despite how dangerous the trek is. With their furry fifth teammate, Michael and his team continue to push forward and show the world they have what it takes to win.

Arthur the King is a film that is all about endurance and pushing through the pain in search of something bigger. For Michael, that was initially glory. In a past year’s race, Michael was on the brink of winning with his teammate Leo (Simu Liu), but his inability to listen to anyone else and thinking he could overcome any obstacle in his way through sheer force ended up costing him not only first place but finishing the race entirely. Michael and Leo reluctantly team up again because it’s the only way they could get sponsors, but tensions remain high as Leo feels Michael is only in it for himself and will strive to win at any cost. It’s only when Arthur comes into the picture that Michael begins to learn the value of being a team.

There’s no denying that Ukai is the heart and soul of the film. Not only is he absolutely adorable, but he also keeps up with everyone for every step of the race. It is a little unbelievable that there’s this dog living on the streets with an injured leg who keeps up with adventures as they venture across hundreds of miles of dangerous jungles and cliffs. If it wasn’t based on a true story I would have thought it to be absolutely ridiculous. My biggest issue with the film is that it doesn’t do an adequate job at showing how dangerous and extreme the race is or explore anyone else besides Michael and Arthur. With such a unsecure foundation, any heartfelt moments the movie might have only land half as hard.

I was unaware of what the Adventure Racing World Championship exactly was before seeing Arthur the King, and the film only offers up the simplest of explanations describing it as a 435-mile race where teams of four can travel whatever path they want so long as they make it to designated checkpoints along the course. The film struggles to comprehend just what that entails. The race is supposed to be for the elite of the elite, but Michael has no issues qualifying for the championship despite how much of an underdog his team is. They only arrive in the country days before the race is scheduled to start, giving them next to zero time for any training. One team member is nursing a previously injured knee. Yet they’re still able to keep up with everyone else it seems. There are also only so many shots you can do of trekking through the jungle before it all looks the same. The film captures the whole race with the same intensity of a 10k.

Nathalie Emmanuel plays Olivia who is probably the most talented member of the team. She is the daughter of a world renowned climber, but has given up competing to spend more time with her father. As it turns out he has cancer, and it was his wish that she compete in this race. Normally that would be a strong focus of a film, but here it’s barely given any attention. Olivia casually drops the bombshell that’s her dad has cancer and she’s doing the whole thing for him right as the race starts, and then it’s pretty much ignored for the rest of the film. There’s no reunion between the two of them, no emotional breakthrough, nothing. She, along with everyone else, is ignored in favor of Michael and Arthur. I understand that the story is about them, but by not showing anyone else even the slightest bit of development, the whole thing just falls flat.

As a result, Arthur the King lacks any thrill and excitement. Aside from a blister here and some throwing up there, the film struggles showing the true dangers of the race. We never really see the team at their lowest so their climb towards the top isn’t as exciting. Arthur makes it all look easy, and while I know that’s not the case in reality, it’s the lackluster presentation that dulls any potential adventure. Arthur may be king, but the film doesn’t know how to wear the crown. The bond between Arthur and the team is heartwarming, but the film struggles with nearly every other aspect. It’s a shame because the true story behind the film is absolutely touching. I just wish it was told better.

  • Arthur the King


There’s little sense of adventure as the film fails to adequately capture the grueling nature of the race. Arthur the King is ruff around the edges, and while it eventually crosses the finish line, it does so limping.

About the author

Matt Rodriguez

Owner and Chief Editor of Shakefire.