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Arthur the King

Content Caution

Arthur the King 2024


In Theaters


Home Release Date




Paul Asay

Movie Review

One last chance.

That’s all Michael Light wants: one last chance to stand in the winner’s circle. One last chance for all the pain to lead to something special. One last chance to erase the title of “the greatest adventure racer to never win a world championship.”

In the 2015 Adventure Racing World Championships—Michael’s last race, his supposed swan song—he and his team, literally, got stuck in the mud. His team didn’t even finish that year. A bitter end indeed for a man as competitive as Michael.

“I raced for 19 years,” he gripes to wife, Helen. “That’s what I’m remembered for?”

But three years later, Michael feels like he has one more adventure race in him. And this time, he’ll win. He knows it. He won’t accept anything else.

But he can’t do it alone.

Adventure racing is unlike any other competition. You race as a four-person team (one of whom must be a woman), crossing hundreds of miles of rugged terrain over a week or more.

Teams must hit a series of checkpoints during the race, but the path they take to those checkpoints is up to them: Taking a convenient road is one way. Taking a shortcut through the jungle might be another. Teams might well navigate canyons and cliff faces, cross rivers and chasms. They’ll run and bike and swim through the rain, the snow, the heat, the dark of night—hardly sleeping, barely resting.

“Suffering is a skill,” Michael says. And Michael can suffer with the best of them. But he needs a team that’s willing to suffer just as much.

He turns first to William “Chik” Chikerotis, a legendary racer whose age—and bum knee—is catching up with him. Skilled climber Olivia Baker is next: At first she declines, saying she’s given the sport up. But her father convinces her otherwise.

But Michael has no prayer of getting any sponsorship money without bringing social media star Leo along. Michael would rather break a foot than race with Leo again; he was on Michael’s miserable 2015 race, taking embarrassing pictures all the way. But Leo’s a good racer, too. And if suffering is a skill, Michael can suffer his company.

They train. The race begins—more than 400 miles and an estimated 10 days through the worst terrain the Dominican Republic has to offer: jungles, cliffs, unfordable rivers. And every checkpoint seems to be teeming with stray dogs, looking for a handout.

One dog takes a shine to Michael. Michael gives the pooch a meatball.

And then, just like that, the team is off and running again, heading to the next checkpoint.

But the dog—a dog with a bleeding back, broken teeth, too many hard nights to imagine, too many bad encounters to count—sneaks out of the checkpoint and follows, perhaps seeking, finally, love. Companionship.

One last chance.

Positive Elements

Arthur (as Michael eventually names the dog) has led a ruff—er, rough life. He’s not too keen on humans, and he’s terribly nervous about going inside anywhere. So earlier, when a kindly human sees the hurting dog outside his house and invites him inside for a bowl of water, Arthur splits.

Michael’s act of kindness is a little different. He’s not trying to coax the dog inside, which might appeal to Arthur. So the pooch, perhaps feeling as though he’s found a kindred spirit, follows.

We all know about the whole “man’s best friend” cliché, how loyal dogs are. Arthur proves to be a truly devout follower of Michael and his team—sometimes saving them from disaster. And through Arthur’s loyalty, Michael et al. eventually feel the same sort of loyalty to the dog.

Now, keep in mind, showing too much kindness to anything on a race such as this is, typically, a no-no. You can’t worry about a stray dog during the World Championships, for heaven’s sake. Leo often reminds the rest of the team that the dog—no matter how adorable—is superfluous. They have a goal, and if the pooch ever gets lost or gets in their way, too bad for Arthur. “The thing’ll be dead by morning,” Leo says when the dog shows up.

But as the race goes on, those bonds of loyalty grow stronger. Team members (including Leo) begin to make their own sacrifices for the dog. And eventually, because of Arthur, adventure race fans unite behind Michael’s team as one they can truly root for. Ultimately, their shared bond with Arthur helps them bond with each other more, too—with the race becoming secondary to their shared fate. And in the end, Michael returns home a changed man—far more dedicated and devoted to his loving wife and growing family than he ever was before.

[Spoiler Warning] But really, the race is just the beginning of Arthur’s journey. Afterward, the seriousness of the dog’s previous injuries becomes more obvious: The dog will surely die unless it goes to the United States to get specialized treatment—and there’s no way that the Dominican Republic will allow a stray canine to leave the country. Right? But Arthur’s a social media phenomenon now (thanks in part to Leo). No surprise, then, that fans pressure the government on the pup’s behalf. A charity fund for Arthur’s operation is launched by the racing community—with many rival racing teams helping as they can. And Michael never leaves the dog’s side, even sleeping on the streets with Arthur when the animal refuses to step inside a hotel. Arthur does make it back to the States and is adopted by Michael’s family. And a closing montage of pictures show the real Arthur in action, clearly having found a home.

Spiritual Elements

At one point, Michael sits with his family around a dinner table, everyone holding hands, as if they’re preparing to say grace. After Michael feeds Arthur a meatball, Arthur somehow reconnects with the team 200 miles later—even though Michael’s team had been biking, scaling cliffs and sailing down ziplines. Chik, one of Michael’s teammates, suggests that the dog might have wings that the crew doesn’t know about.

Sexual Content

Female athletes sometimes wear sports bras, and guys are occasionally shirtless. Michael takes a shower, and we see him from the waist up. Michael’s daughter, Ruby, paints Michael’s nails pink. When his wife sees the color, Michael quips that she should see his toenails. (He paints his toenails before the race, in homage to his daughter.)

Violent Content

Pep talks are a little different in adventure racing. “We’re going to see who can endure the most pain and take the crown,” Michael tells his team toward the end of the race.

So while there’s not a lot of actual violence in play, adventure racing is an inherently risky, and painful, sport. Perhaps the grossest thing we see is when Olivia attends to a really huge, icky, popped blister on her Achilles by yanking off the loose skin—and leaving raw pink flesh behind. Chik also suffers a stumble and twists his bad knee, leaving him to limp for a good section of the race. A zipline results in a pretty perilous moment for a couple of racers, and Michael’s team discusses the threats they might encounter—including “crocodiles, tarantulas and snakes. Lots of snakes.”

Even training is grueling: Helen mentions to Michael that he left his “bloody socks and muddy shoes by the door.” Michael recounts how, when a baseball coach told him that Michael would be wasting his time in the sport, Michael went out every day and ran in his baseball cleats for 15 miles, until his feet were bloody, to prove the coach that he could compete.

But no one suffers more than Arthur. As mentioned, we know that the dog had a hard life, and it seems that he’d been abused and ultimately abandoned. His back sometimes looks as if its fur was stained with blood, and we’re told it was from beatings the dog had endured. He runs away from other stray dogs, too.

Once he joins Michael’s team, members talk about how Arthur seems to be getting weaker and how his lingering wounds are beginning to smell like “rotten flesh.” He risks his life to follow Michael’s team throughout the race, and by the end of it he’s indeed near death. After Michael takes him to a vet, we see the grotesquely infected wound (and are told about additional health problems). An injection is made.

Crude or Profane Language

While Arthur the King steers clear of a lot of issues, it pushes its profanity right to the edge of its PG-13 rating. We hear one f-word and more than 20 s-words. Also on tap are “a–,” “b–ch,” “crap,” “d–n”, “d-ck” and “h—.” God’s name is misused eight times (once with the word “d—n”), while Jesus’ name is abused once.

Drug and Alcohol Content


Other Negative Elements

Did I mention that adventure racing is a grueling sport? During training, Olivia jokes with Chik, saying that he only threw up once during their last training run. “That you know of,” Chik quips. During the actual race, a dehydrated Leo vomits.

While dangling from a zip line, two characters talk about needing to urinate. When Arthur takes off into the undergrowth unexpectedly, Michael worries that the dog has had enough of their company. But minutes later, it returns—and Michael concludes that Arthur just had some “business” to attend to. “I guess a dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do, right?” Michael says.

[Spoiler Warning] We learn that Michael withdrew $50,000 from his wife’s and family’s savings account to fund the team’s travel and training—and it sure feels as though Michael didn’t tell Helen. “Why the h— would you put your family in jeopardy just to win a race?” Chik scolds him.


Michael named the dog “Arthur the King” because of his regal bearing—especially when the rest of the team was eating and he’d simply watch. But the name—and the movie’s title—comes with a more potent meaning.

England’s legendary King Arthur, as you probably know, presided over a bunch of equally legendary knights, and he most famously sent them out to seek the Holy Grail (the cup that Christ allegedly used at the Last Supper). Stories revolving around the Grail were wildly popular in the Middle Ages. And to this day, the Grail has been used to describe a worthy-but-unachievable (or nigh unachievable) goal. In some stories, the “hero” gets so lost in his quest that he loses sight of a simple, powerful truth: The “grail”—what we seek—is sometimes so much closer to us than we imagine. But we must suffer and endure the quest itself to find and understand it. (Queue up Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for a pretty literal manifestation of this dynamic.)

For Michael, that elusive grail has always been a World Championship victory. We can see throughout much of the movie just how driven he is—and how he’ll stop at nothing. Pain? Suffering? It’s a given. But if he can just claim that title, it’ll all be worth it. He’ll sip from that precious cup of victory and feel complete.

But then he meets Arthur. And, as he and his team pounds through the miles and pushes through the pain, Michael understands that maybe this grail he’s been looking for isn’t as important as he thought it was. Maybe the real grail he longs for is a little more ethereal: friendship. Family. Love.

Sometimes a wise king understands these things better than a questing competitor such as Michael. Even if that king is a canine.

Arthur the King feels, in a lot of respects, like an old-fashioned Disney film, where a boy and his dog brave all manner of travails together. Sure, in this case, the “boy” is a fortysomething man, but the vibe is still the same. And on that level, it still works. This is a sweet, sentimental story that has a lot going for it.

But an old G-rated Disney movie would’ve never contained a smidgen of swearing, and this PG-13 film is filthy with it. Add a few bits of bathroom humor and some perilous situations, and there’s a bit more content to navigate here. While the messages in Arthur the King might get many a tail a-wagging, its cursing is worth a growl or two.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.