April 14, 2024 12:22 pm

Arthur the King
Arthur the King

Arthur the King

The word “sport” does not begin to do it justice. Adventure Team Racing is the most extreme, demanding, endurance activity in the world. It makes the Iron Man combination of running, swimming, and biking look like a game of hopscotch. An adventure race can involve running, biking, climbing, kayaking, and any other imaginable strenuous movement forward, over every possible kind of treacherous terrain. Races can last for many days, with only brief permissible stops and time penalties for aids like IV fluids. “Arthur the King” is based on the true story of one of these races, with an American team racing through the jungles, mountains, and rivers of the Dominican Republic (the real story involved a Swedish team in Ecuador). Mark Wahlberg plays team leader Michael Light, who bonds with a stray dog he names Arthur. 

It is really three movies in one, all watchable, but the pieces do not always mesh.  The first and least compelling piece is Michael’s story. He is a restless character, possibly an adrenalin junkie, or just someone with something to prove after being called “the best adventure team racer never to win a championship” by “Man vs. Wild” host Bear Grylls (playing himself off camera). Michael loves his wife and daughter but he does not love working for his former military-turned realtor father. He will not let his legacy be a viral image of his losing team literally stuck in the mud. 

No one wants to sponsor him after his last failure. But with just half of the money he needs, Michael assembles a team: Chick (Ali Suliman), the navigator, who was let go from the championship team for his bad knee, Olivia (Nathalie Emmanuel), the expert free climber and daughter of an ailing former champion, and Leo (Simu Liu), the one who posted that viral mud photo, a social media star who is still angry with Michael over the bad decisions that cost them the prize in the previous race. Michael promises that this time Leo will have a voice in the team’s direction and Lou warns him, “It will be a loud one.”

The second piece of the film is the story of the race, “5-10 days racing the toughest terrain on earth.” With a limited budget, the team cuts back on the crucial on-site preparation time. They arrive just before the race begins, with not enough time to acclimate to the climate. “The first rule is anything can happen,” Michael tells the team, and everyone responds with sports-y pep talk aphorisms like “Whatever it takes” and “We accept it. We embrace it.” 

The first event is a 24-mile trek through the jungle. There’s no set path, so one of the challenges of the sport is to find shortcuts through terrain that is treacherous and uncharted. This part of the film has gorgeous settings (though the racers hardly ever take time to look at them) and very exciting sequences, including a real nail-biter on a fraying zip line. 

The third piece, of course, is the story of Arthur, an abused street dog who improbably, after “not a dog person” Michael gives him a meatball, follows the team for hundreds of miles and at one point saves them from running off a cliff. Arthur and Michael both begin the film as loners, but over the course of the race we see them become a team and then a family. The entire team’s “whatever it takes” spirit continues but there is a shift in the idea the human members have about “it,” the goal they are willing to risk everything for, should be. 

At times, as Michael spoke to Arthur, it did feel like Wahlberg was imitating Andy Samberg imitating him and I half expected him to tell the dog to say hi to his mother. But the connection between Michael and Arthur, and the way Michael transfers the determination he brings to the race to the fight to bring Arthur home is undeniably moving. We look forward to the inevitable shots of the real Mikael and Arthur over the closing credits.

Michael’s wife calls his dream “a magical finish line,” and the movie reminds us that we should pay close attention to the goals we set for ourselves, to decide whether achieving them will really give us what we are hoping for and what it means to win.

 

The word “sport” does not begin to do it justice. Adventure Team Racing is the most extreme, demanding, endurance activity in the world. It makes the Iron Man combination of running, swimming, and biking look like a game of hopscotch. An adventure race can involve running, biking, climbing, kayaking, and any other imaginable strenuous movement forward, over every possible kind of treacherous terrain. Races can last for many days, with only brief permissible stops and time penalties for aids like IV fluids. “Arthur the King” is based on the true story of one of these races, with an American team racing through the jungles, mountains, and rivers of the Dominican Republic (the real story involved a Swedish team in Ecuador). Mark Wahlberg plays team leader Michael Light, who bonds with a stray dog he names Arthur.  It is really three movies in one, all watchable, but the pieces do not always mesh.  The first and least compelling piece is Michael’s story. He is a restless character, possibly an adrenalin junkie, or just someone with something to prove after being called “the best adventure team racer never to win a championship” by “Man vs. Wild” host Bear Grylls (playing himself off camera). Michael loves his wife and daughter but he does not love working for his former military-turned realtor father. He will not let his legacy be a viral image of his losing team literally stuck in the mud.  No one wants to sponsor him after his last failure. But with just half of the money he needs, Michael assembles a team: Chick (Ali Suliman), the navigator, who was let go from the championship team for his bad knee, Olivia (Nathalie Emmanuel), the expert free climber and daughter of an ailing former champion, and Leo (Simu Liu), the one who posted that viral mud photo, a social media star who is still angry with Michael over the bad decisions that cost them the prize in the previous race. Michael promises that this time Leo will have a voice in the team’s direction and Lou warns him, “It will be a loud one.” The second piece of the film is the story of the race, “5-10 days racing the toughest terrain on earth.” With a limited budget, the team cuts back on the crucial on-site preparation time. They arrive just before the race begins, with not enough time to acclimate to the climate. “The first rule is anything can happen,” Michael tells the team, and everyone responds with sports-y pep talk aphorisms like “Whatever it takes” and “We accept it. We embrace it.”  The first event is a 24-mile trek through the jungle. There’s no set path, so one of the challenges of the sport is to find shortcuts through terrain that is treacherous and uncharted. This part of the film has gorgeous settings (though the racers hardly ever take time to look at them) and very exciting sequences, including a real nail-biter on a fraying zip line.  The third piece, of course, is the story of Arthur, an abused street dog who improbably, after “not a dog person” Michael gives him a meatball, follows the team for hundreds of miles and at one point saves them from running off a cliff. Arthur and Michael both begin the film as loners, but over the course of the race we see them become a team and then a family. The entire team’s “whatever it takes” spirit continues but there is a shift in the idea the human members have about “it,” the goal they are willing to risk everything for, should be.  At times, as Michael spoke to Arthur, it did feel like Wahlberg was imitating Andy Samberg imitating him and I half expected him to tell the dog to say hi to his mother. But the connection between Michael and Arthur, and the way Michael transfers the determination he brings to the race to the fight to bring Arthur home is undeniably moving. We look forward to the inevitable shots of the real Mikael and Arthur over the closing credits. Michael’s wife calls his dream “a magical finish line,” and the movie reminds us that we should pay close attention to the goals we set for ourselves, to decide whether achieving them will really give us what we are hoping for and what it means to win.   Read More