Picking up right where The Desolation of Smaug left off, The Hobbit 3: Battle of the Five Armies throws you straight into the fray as the mighty Smaug descends upon Laketown. While there are some differences from the book and the 1977 animated film, those changes did not detract from the story itself, and in fact help to serve the over all saga of Middle Earth. The key points are there, as are the key players; and Gandalf's side story, which was only hinted at in The Hobbit while more fully told in the LotR Appendices, is given full fleshed life, fully revealing the true malevolent powers behind Azog and his hoards.
Many strengths are revealed in our heroes as the once mighty and proud Thorin Oakenshield succumbs to the Dragon Sickness, slowly going mad as his kin folk and his dear friend Bilbo look on, desperately hoping to pull their King back from the abyss even as the armies of men and Elves march upon Erebor to demand their share of the Dragon Hoard and Dain Ironfoot arrives in true Dwarvish splendor to defend his kin folk within the mountain. Elsewhere, Galadriel's true might comes to bear, Saruman shows the breadth of his power, and Lord Elrond fights with the grace and precision of his race to save Gandalf, who must make all speed to Erebor and find a way to calm the tempers of a slighted Elf King, the desperate and displaced men of Laketown, and a newly crowned Mountain King and his temperamental cousin in a bid to unite them against the rising tide of darkness heralded by Azog the Defiler. The fifth army, the giant eagles Gandalf had long befriended, comes again to help route the hoards and eventually win the day.
Mighty clashes and dizzying swordsmanship punctuate the individual stories throughout the great battle, some ending in triumph, others in tragedy. Secrets are revealed, old wounds are finally mended, and a foreshadowing of the future to come is passed on. Part three of The Hobbit does indeed build the bridge to The Lord of the Rings trilogy without sacrificing the integrity of what was once written as a children's story in 1937 and has become an epic adventure worthy of the legacy of J.R.R. Tolkein's great masterwork of Middle Earth.